Saturday, July 28, 2018

Which are you? An Individualist or Collectivist

I recently took a test. This isn’t what’s interesting. We all take tests, be it state standardized tests in middle and high school, ACT and SAT tests for college, or the Civics test all high school students are now required to take and pass to graduate. Test taking has been universally known as a nuisance. This is a problem I’ve had in the past and still deal with today and for all my students I’ve worked within the school systems and while tutoring.

The anxiety, depression, nervousness, and helplessness are common feelings and emotions many people feel before taking a test. And these emotions aren’t made up. I struggled all through primary and secondary school with tests and quizzes. The thought of filling out another fifty-questioned multiple-choice test makes my skin tingle and sweat to start forming on my clammy body. My hands start to twitch, and my breathing picks up. I’m in panic mode.

Luckily, for me, I didn’t take a test that caused any of these emotions. I was excited and learned a lot based on the answers I picked. I took the individualist and collectivist test in the book Figuring Foreigners Out: A Practical Guide by Craig Storti.  

I found out many things about myself including:

  • How I perceive the world around me.
  • How I see other people.
  • How well I work in groups.
  • And how little I understand about my own culture and the world around me.

Before I get into my results and tell you which type of person I am—Individualist or Collectivist—I want to explain the difference between these two terms. In the book, Storti mentions that there are two types of cultures:

  • Individualist Cultures
  • Collectivist Cultures

Instead of using these terms, I decided to see if I could figure out which culture or group I fit in best.

As Storti stated, “No culture will be exclusively individualist or collectivist—all cultures will have elements of both poles—but cultures do tend to be more one than the other.”

Individualist Culture and Group

An individualist culture or group is about oneself and being self-sufficient. This culture or group values personal freedom, independence, and self-reliance.

“Individualist cultures believe rewards should be directly commensurate with one’s level of effort.”

Collectivist Culture and Group
A collectivist culture or group is about family and ensuring that a group is successful. Success in a group guarantees the well-being of every other individual in the group.

“Collectivist cultures believe that their own security and well-being ultimately depend on the well-being and survival of their group.”


Though not surprising, I fit in one group better than the other. I’m an individualist individual and I believe that I live in an individualist culture. I believe that if someone is in a group and another person doesn’t pull their weight that he or she shouldn’t be given the same result or reward.

Yet, I like to think that I’m a collectivist individual and live in a collectivist culture. When I tutor my students, I treat them all the same and give them equal opportunities to learn and grow. I don’t pick and choose who will succeed or who I’ll help more often.

This isn’t how the U.S. works, though. Big corporations and the government many times follow an individualist system where it’s “every man for themselves”. Look at Walmart. Michael T. Duke, the new CEO, who came in after many scandals riddled the company, decided that the best way he can change the situation was to first give himself an annual salary of $5.43 million.

Suddenly, the Bible makes more sense.

In 1 Timothy 6:10, it states, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”   

Politicians and big corporate leaders follow an individualist system that many times are flawed. This is one of the reasons so many people can’t feel a connection to politicians anymore. Politicians goal is to get your vote and to do that they will tell you what you want to hear (or tell WHAT they’re going to do) instead of telling you WHY they are going to do it. (This idea is expanded on in the book Start With Why by Simon Sinek).

Even with all this information, I need to back up a bit to explain what I try to get at.

China vs the United States of America

This blog is meant to share the story of my time spent living in Beijing, China. How is China different from the U.S.? Does China follow an individualist system?

The answer is yes and no.

A map of China
China is such a large country, with more than one billion people living within its borders, that labeling China as one specific culture or group won’t make sense. I met many people who fit in the individualist group while my host family and their friends fit in the collectivist group.

Many Chinese citizens look out for themselves. Family is very important though and a father may even get violent with someone if he thinks his family is being threatened. This isn’t very different from American families. Though the family structure in America is sometimes stretched thin and families tend to spend more time away from each other than together.

I only live a mile away from my paternal grandparents and my father’s brother (Uncle) and his family. Even though we live this close, I rarely see them and many times we don’t communicate with each other unless it is a holiday or birthday. It’s a fight to get everyone together to enjoy a family meal or to host a family reunion. The family connection is very much lost and each of my extended family is an individualist person.

My new friends and host sister, Dora
My host mom and host dad are collectivist individuals. Sharing food and the rewards from accomplishing big tasks are shared equally within the family unit. Being considerate to friends is also common as eating out at a restaurant meant every one is sharing a meal. There is a conversation happening the entire time we eat, and the meal usually lasted close to two hours.

Figuring Foreigners Out

No one is the same. We hear this in school and we see it when we walk down the street. Different cultures dominate the United States of America. America was built on foreign ideas and from people from every walk of life and corner of the planet. Instead of insulting or passing judgment on foreigners that visit America, we should be learning from them.

So, what type of individual are you? Are you a collectivist? An individualist? Or do you fit in both? Leave your answer below.  

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