Individualism vs Collectivism

It’s odd when you think about how most of your understanding of the world, your political views, your goals, and much more is defined by just a few experiences. I can lay out the path from being born a southern, Christian-by-default, Republican-by-default kid to a Democratic Atheist person whose not sold on the virtues or unendingness of Capitalism.

Funnily, the International House of Pancakes has quite a bit to do with the start of all that, but I’ll save some of those stories for another post. The story I want to share today is what happened to a friend’s family of mine while I was visiting the Netherlands.

Police runs over bartenders leg!

After an early night from jet-lag, I woke up in the beautiful village of Blaricum ready to eat some cheese and find something to do. When my girlfriend at the time and I went into the living room, my friend and his mom were talking – Something looked wrong.

Martijn saw me and let us know his sister, a bartender in Amsterdam, had broken her leg on the way back home from work the previous night. She was heading to the train and a police woman didn’t see her and ran her over, breaking a couple bones in her foot.

The questions and answered that followed have shaped my world-view more than any other event thus far.

“Oh no! Is she OK?”

“Yes, they took her to the hospital and fixed her” - For free of course, but it was really the nonchalance that - of course we fixed her foot. It was broken. It must have been like someone asking if the fire department put the fire out.

“What will she do about work?”

“Oh, well the government will pay her wages since she’s injured and can’t work” - Another thing that seemed obvious to everyone but us.

And then the big one came:

“So, is she going to sue the cop?”

“What do you mean? It was just an accident. No one meant to.”

This rocked my world at the time and has ever since. That a society, a community, could be so close that they wouldn’t consider a potential avenue for retribution or even potential financial gains. For it to fail to occur to them signaled to me this togetherness must exist at least enough for some people to live this way.

The way we could be

I can’t help but think about that story that happened over 10 years ago now more and more the past few years as I feel like we’re drifting further away from that ideal. There seems to be some false notion here that everything is a zero sum game – Any water that lets others’ boats rise will be water I can’t use to raise my boat! – seems to be the general thought.

And it is that way if we make it that way. The world and our societies are what we make them. The excellent book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind talks deeply about our myths like money, companies, nations and their members, and more. We set the conditions, the incentives, the virtues and punishments of the land. I keep asking myself why then we’re choosing this.

I still remain hopeful and optimistic as the macro trend is clearly going the right way, especially globally, but I do hope we can create a nation of community, love, and stewardship instead of the sloganism and tribalism that’s so en vogue today.

See also

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