Can we start caring for the collective good?

RachelAnn Degnan, Columnist

In our society, we like to believe that if our lives were made into a movie, we would be the main character. We rarely consider the fact that our lives are not just about our growth and our strength but what we contribute to the community. A study done by Psychological Science, a leading international organization dedicated to advancing scientific psychology, found that Americans who had to do tasks involving teamwork were less motivated to help others.

According to Geert Hofstede’s book, “Culture’s consequences : comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations”, America scored the highest for individualism when compared to all other societies. This means the United States values the individual over the collective good. We expect someone who is struggling to figure it out on their own or ask for help themselves and we praise those who never need assistance. 

The Greek philosopher Aristotle taught his ideas of equality, independence and freedom. When the Founding Fathers were laying down our government, they chose to be inspired by his teaching about individual good. 

At a young age, we are taught to think for ourselves and to work towards a future where we do not need anything from anyone. Our teen years are filled with independent stepping stones like turning 16 and having the privilege of owning a driver’s license. Or at 18, citizens can vote and contribute to politics and most people at this age are moving out of their parent’s house and living separate lives from their families. 

There is not anything wrong with individualism at its core. Plato believed in “knowing thyself,” and he often taught his students that the best way to contribute to the world is to become the best you possible. America’s individualism has led to great innovation and discovery, and has made America one of the leading nations in the industry.

The problem occurs when we begin confusing individualism with selfishness. Our society has focused so much on freedom and our right to it that we are willing to step on our brothers and sisters in the name of free choice. 

Ironically, Aristotle actually believed in the collective good just as much as an individual accomplishment. He even once said, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

I like to think that we do not deliberately choose to be selfish. I hope that a lot of the time, we do not understand or have not seen it through another perspective. A new study done by ABC News found that only 55% of America’s population is wearing masks. 

I recognize that we have the rights to question the government and we have the right to disagree. I have these rights because of someone’s sacrifice. Millions of people have shaped this country to be what it is today and because of that, I want to do my best to use my God-given and American rights to better our community and society as well.

I am going to just admit an extremely embarrassing fact. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I was one of those people who thought it was ridiculous to wear a mask in public. I did not think it was ethical to require citizens to wear face coverings with so little evidence of its effectiveness, and I refused to. I could blame it on my conservative upbringing or say I was enacting my right to question the government, but in reality, I was just being stubborn and honestly, pretty ignorant. 

My older brother helped me see that my choice to not wear a mask did not just affect me, but my community as a whole and the people I loved and cared about back home. I may hate it and I may despise that it has become a part of our daily life, but I understand and respect that it is not for me anymore, but for the collective good. 

Coronavirus has been the only event in recent history to affect every single being on this earth. Even young children who have no idea what a virus is are now having to adjust to wearing masks and using remote learning. In America alone, 205,000 people have died from this virus. 

If we can not learn how to care about the collective good during COVID-19, will we ever?

How do we change and learn to care about the collective good?

The quick answer is not to stop questioning the government. Our country was built for the people by the people and I wholeheartedly believe that we must not give up our rights. 

The truth is, the first thing we have to do is admit there is a problem. Independently and as a community we must commit to making decisions based on how it affects everyone. We have to look at difficult conversations and topics through other perspectives and practice putting our personal wants on the back burner. 

If we can learn to care more about the collective good, America may finally find the true equality, peace and freedom it has been looking for since 1776.