In a recent post, Diving Deep – 5 November, I argued that individual independence as a benchmark for maturity and success has certain adverse effects. It was promptly pointed out that individualism is not the problem but rather the solution and that communalism (/collectivism) is problematic.

The question underlying both the post and many of the comments is the tension between the rights and privileges of the individual in relation to the welfare of the community, large and small, environmental and human-environmental.

Recent statistics gave the number of jobs lost in the last three months in South Africa as topping 440000. For the welfare of the community at large I would think that this difficulty needs to be shared through individual action. A hypothetical example, if I made a R1000 per hour off the back of others inability to meet certain payment deadlines; I will now have more work than ever, but I might lower my burden on the unfortunate by forty percent. In this way the individual benefits from the upsurge in work and the feeling of well-being and the community benefits by sharing the burden.

The same can be said for the community. In a situation where an individual becomes destitute the community needs to act as one to shoulder the burden. An example here might be the environmental crisis (which might be seen as an “individual”) and the need for community, small and large, to effect a positive future for our children. Communal rationing during the Second World War and the banning of CFC’s are examples that come to mind.

The balance is disturbed when there is an over-emphasis on either one or the other. The emphasis on individual independence leads to the rape of nature and the exploitation of people with the resulting gap, ever widening, between the obesely rich and the distitudal poor. This in turn then leads to an unstable environment in which riches might become a safety liability and even bad for individual health. On the other hand, an over-emphasis on community negates the individual identity. This leads to the loss of diversity and humanity which negatively impacts on the richness of the community, for example in creative expression, and on the ability of the community to react to threats and challenges.  The end result of an impoverished community is most likely to be death.

A healthy community is essential for individuals to flourish, be creative and live life to the fullest. Rudyard Kipling captured this intrinsical truth the best when he wrote: “The strength of the Pack is the Wolf and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack”.

Balancing individual pursuit and wants with communal responsibility, I think, is a much greater benchmark for maturity and success.

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