There is an analogy by Harry Triandis (1990) that proposes a similarity between collectivism and water, and individualism and ice. The world’s cultures can be likened to lakes with bits of ice floating on top. Then, as the temperature changes, the ice molecules either form or crack. There is always a combination of both water and ice, just as a society will incorporate some individualistic and some collectivistic elements, although to what degree varies.
As the two terms are each other’s opposites, a culture will be influenced predominantly by one or the other, which has a great impact on how that society then chooses to operate. Individualism is found mostly in Europe and North America. On the other hand, there is collectivism, which makes up the majority or the “rest” of the world. These circumstances have resulted in the term “the West” and “the rest.
” The two ideologies have their respective core values, a delicate matter to be negotiated. One topic that is under continuous strain is the debate of human rights. There is a clear correlation between countries’ views and their placement on the scale of Hofstede. The individualistic cultures strongly believe in the freedoms of every individual, but this focus on singularity instead of solidarity clashes with the collectivistic perspective. The West has had a particularly strong economy for some time, but the more recent economic improvement of other parts of the world has strengthened their oppositional abilities. Having two proportionate negotiators with fierce opinions makes reaching universal agreements increasingly problematic.
The Asian position was once asserted by Kausikan, the representative of Singapore to the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna, Austria, in June 1993. He voiced their opposition to being pressured into conforming to the individualistic stance, stating that while most Asians want to maintain a respectful relationship to the West, they do not welcome the attempts to foist Western understandings of human rights upon them. He later added that “everyone has the right to be recognized as a person before the law. And there are other such rights that must be enjoyed by all human beings everywhere in the civilized world. But the hard core of rights that is truly universal is smaller than the West maintained at Vienna and is less enamored with unlimited individual and press freedom.
” (Individualism vs Collectivism, pg. 14). It becomes apparent that the government’s priorities regarding the well-being of their citizens is dependent on the ideology of the country itself. While individualistic nations are conscientious in regards to protecting their people’s freedom, collectivistic authorities consider the significance of the overall harmony and success of their country as greater than individuality. The phenomenon is recognized by experts working in the field of individualism and collectivism.
One such person is Dr. Joan Chiao who states that “people from highly individualistic cultures like the United States and Western Europe are more likely to value uniqueness over harmony, expression over agreement, and to define themselves as unique or different from the group. Relative to people in an individualistic culture, they are more likely to endorse behaviours that increase group cohesion and interdependence.” (Britain’s ‘me culture’ is making us depressed, para. 11&12). A country’s beliefs influence more than just the interpretation and establishment of its laws, it also impacts what consequences one receives when breaking them. An illustrative example of this is an incident that occurred in Singapore in 1994. An American teenager had spray-painted seventeen cars, and as a punishment he was to be given six strikes with a cane.
President Bill Clinton’s individualistic tendencies drove him to action. He contacted the Singapore government, opposing the severity of the punishment, but accomplished only to reduce the sentence from six to four strikes. While American compassion laid with the individual, Singapore focused on the harm done to their society.
There is a certain concord between America’s ideal vision of a nation and how they chose to act in the situation, and one can draw parallels to The American Dream. It centers around an individual’s dream of achievement and creativity, while ‘The Singapore Dream’ values the harmony of its state. Their difference in perspective resulted in both parties insisting on their course of action, acknowledging it as the superior one. The case from Singapore demonstrates the fundamental conflict between the individualists and collectivists and how this influences their actions. The correlation between a nation’s actions and whether they are dominantly individualistic or collectivistic is clear. It effects a great many things, everything from the rights of the civilians to the sentence one receives if one breaks the law. On a larger scale, every action that is encouraged by the state contributes to the shared vision of utopia for their nation, whether that goal is person-oriented or society-oriented.
Therefore, the social guidelines within each country is a direct result of the dominating ideology. Although there is a difference in opinion and action between individualists and collectivists, the premise of co-existence is obtainable as long as there is mutual tolerance and willingness to broaden one’s perspective.