Many years ago when I was a lowly grad student I was assigned the task of developing a collaborative program that would enhance my college and the organizations involved. I attempted to pair the university’s environmental center and it’s decrepit, low funded, largely unknown entomology museum.
My idea was to intertwine the two facilities and get some of those bugs on display! It would add an additional educational dimension to the environmental center and would bring some much-needed attention to the entomology museum, possibly increasing their funding prospects! Perfect right?
Although the environmental center was very excited about a new display for their facility the volunteer groups that ran the entomology museum were unable to get past the first meeting. Why? They couldn’t decide which volunteer group would be “first” or what to name the new group. After listening to them bicker for 45 minutes I excused myself from the meeting. They were not interested in the common good only their own groups promotion.
I mention this story because in about 3 weeks our new President will be sworn in to office. We don’t know what our country will look like under President Trump and some of us are fearful that his campaign promises will come to pass. Like the museum folks we have been so busy trying to be right or “first” that we have somehow elected a man into this prestigious office who seems to have only his own best interests at heart.
I’ll admit I have not been paying close attention to politics since the election. My eyes have been decisively shut because opening them reveals only heart-dropping terrors. I can’t look; it’s just too awful! I feel I have been forcibly placed on a roller coaster from hell, locked in tight and the carnie is grinning at me with bright malicious eyes, “Have fun!” he says in gleeful mocking tones.
I am scared.
The worst part is that this roller coaster does not have a traditional track; politics as usual are long, long gone. Unlike every previous POTUS, this one does not follow rules and doesn’t care who doesn’t like it. Even his own party has no weight to pull him gently to one side or the other. It remains to be seen what a man with politically sociopathic tendencies will do*. He will surprise us, no matter our political leanings; it just depends on whether he can keep his followers in their obedient trance. I think he will.
I see a number of groups that are claiming they will fight any injustice, but they are still separate entities, individuals in groups that are not thinking collectively. We need to find a way to rediscover what true community looks like, placing the needs of others above ourselves. We need to think about what it is that will be most beneficial to our country and not just the small space that we inhabit. We need to find a collectivist perspective and find some way to unite everyone.
You may think I am exaggerating, but all you have to do is look at how people reacted to Black Lives Matter. Even the open-minded had a hard time with the semantics. It was a call for relevance and most of us ignored it or criticized the movement. We should have been making this a clarion call, a shout to anyone who was bigoted, racist or separatist. Black Lives Matter was not about being black; it was about being a part of this town, community, state, and country. It turned out to be a missed opportunity that we only barely recognized as paramount to the unity of our nation. We are only as great as our weakest link.
I remind myself that the majority of our country did not vote for Trump. This would be a hopeful thought if it weren’t already obvious that most of us (all of us?) can only think about what is in it for ourselves. We are an individualistic society, which may be why we now have the poster child of individualism as our next president.
A simple way to explain the difference between an individualistic and a collectivist society is to think about the entomology museum situation I mentioned above. If the entomology groups had a collectivist bent the collaboration could have been developed. The obvious need for funding and recognition in a fast paced world should have outweighed the need for individual respect (even if it was the group that wanted the respect). The potential partnership offered benefits for the university, the nature center, the students, and the museum (!) far outweighing the myopic need to be the prevalent identity that supervised the bug collection.
Although I am always hopeful, my optimism is tentative, I don’t know if we are able to join together and put our differences aside, specifically those of us who didn’t vote for Trump. This isn’t only a liberal versus conservative chasm that needs to be forded. I think that as a country we have become completely individualistic and are unable to unite against a common enemy and thus will be defeated.
* I am not calling the president-elect a sociopath. I am referring to the term coined by the Atlantic when describing Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. “Trump, Sanders, and Ted Cruz have in common that they are political sociopaths—meaning not that they are crazy, but that they don’t care what other politicians think about their behavior and they don’t need to care.”
For a good definition of Individualistic versus Collectivistic:
Additional perspective on I vs. C.