Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Great Debate - Individual or collective?

These past few weeks have gotten me thinking a lot about two vastly different world views, one in which we are all individuals able to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and one in which community influences and changes the way we are as individuals. These thoughts were sparked through political discussion, but they are continued by living in New Zealand.

In the United States, and especially in the legal profession, we consider ourselves individuals. The “American Dream” is about making it on your own, even if you do not have family wealth, having your own family, and sticking together. The legal profession is much the same way, it requires individualism, and even the difference between law school and business school is the lack of group activities in law school. In law school, I liked that, group projects are hard, but togetherness and community in other areas mean a lot . . . and can change the world.

This blog has focused on community in many, many areas, and now I am seeing it again – in New Zealand. Yoga here has been off the mat for me, but taking yoga into daily life is what this blog is about, so it just seems natural. New Zealanders “get” community. From the moment I have arrived, I have felt accepted. My host mom offered to let me stay with her an extra 3 weeks,; I stayed at the home of my sister-in-law’s sister’s in-laws while in Auckland. Did I mention that I have never met their son? A group of four of us are traveling together right now, and one asked a friend if we could stay with her. She said yes, but when we arrived, it turned out there was not enough room, so we stayed with her parents’ friend down the street. And the other day, I saw someone pick up a hitchhiker!

One of my travel companions has noted that everyone here has an air of happiness about them that others seem to be missing around the world. Could it be this sense of community? A sense that what we do in our own lives has an effect on others?

Before I got here, I was reading a lot about New Zealand, and a constant theme is that New Zealand is a bit far from the rest of the world, so New Zealanders have always felt a need to work together to make the most of their country. They pride themselves on their hospitality, their openness, and their joy for life. After all, it is the adventure tourism capital of the world.

Yoga teaches that we are all connected, that what we do, and even think, change the world and change other people. Decisions are not made only for you as an individual, but for the community and world as a whole. There are not legal or ethnic boundaries in yoga. While I would not say that New Zealanders see the world as completely connected, their sense of community and support for one another is a huge part of the culture and influences their decisions, both as people and “as a people.”

Lawyers (and everyone) can learn from this. As I noted in the post about patterns and the post about the downward email spiral, these problems arise when we see other people as separate from us, as “the other.” We cannot exist alone, and in a country on the other side of the world, they know this well enough to take in strangers, feed them lamb and wine, and give them a warm Kiwi welcome. Individualism can be a painful way to live life, always believing that someone is out to get you. Perhaps we need to start thinking that everyone is out to help, and maybe we could all start picking up hitchhikers.

What do you think are the advantages/disadvantages to individualism and collectivism? How can we learn from one another?

Namaste and Blessings.

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

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