Individualism and Communalism

When I have the sabbatical for getting myself ready for the senior pastor position about a year ago, I used to spend the whole day studying in a library at a local college. Many students would come and go between classes to spend time at the library and some would actually study but others would come in groups of 5 or 6 and chat. They normally have a great time, laughing and talking loudly without lowering their voices even though they are in an area designated for quiet individual studies and not for study groups. After a while, I would glance their way signaling them for some discipline since they were way too loud for way too long. Even though some of their eyes would meet with mine, they would display no concern and continue on talking while staring straight back at me as if to challenge me to leave if I didn’t like it. I would feel bitter thinking this society has become thoroughly individualistic and stopped being considerate of others.

Nowadays, even in the US, people do not feel bad about causing inconvenience to others any more. In the 90’s when I traveled often to US from Korea on business trips, the difference I noticed between the two countries was United States’ strict public manners. At airports, I used to see children being disciplined by his or her mother for climbing up on the chairs with shoes on but I guess it is something of bygone days. Now, no matter how much a small child runs and shouts in a restaurant, no one cares to discipline him, and the mother only smiles as if she considers such behavior adorable. People increasingly consider privacy and personal rights to be the most important rights to defend and I feel the increased amount of Hispanic and Asian immigrants and their individualism is driving out the existing good culture in US.

Original individualism is not about putting utter most importance on personal rights and privacy. In the long history of European Kingship and later totalitarianism, such as Nazism and chauvinism, individual sacrifice for the nation and group were considered to be fine. Individualism came about to oppose such tyranny and is based on the idea of human dignity and protection for the individuals. Basically, individualism models after the spirit of the Bible in which mankind was created after God’s own image and therefore every one of us is more precious than the world itself. And it was not meant to conflict but co-exist with another spirit in the Bible which is communalism, an idea that an individual exists with the group.

Therefore, Christians abide by public rules and manners strictly and teach their children to do the same. We shouldn’t make excuses like, “All children are like that…” when our children are running around in a restaurant, being noisy and standing on chairs with shoes on, touching or breaking things while visiting somebody else’s home. We should make sure that they develop good habits and grow up to be considerate of others by disciplining them strictly.

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