Language Lens

A blog about life, discovery and culture through the lens of language and linguistics.

The Individual… the Black Sheep

I recently talked to some students about individualism vs. collectivism and really loved it. It was the conversation and sharing and even disagreeing that made it really rich.  I’m back in the United States, an individualistic society, that can be misunderstood, just as cultures misunderstand each other.  For example, many can think that we don’t love our families as much as it’s ok to move away-even at a very young age, or that we are cold in our actions, or that we are all rich.

For one, we can seem cold as we are ‘individuals’; we shake hands instead of kiss on the cheek, and we like our own individual space and time alone, in general.  And regarding being rich, well this is absolutely not true and is a matter of a different world economy and way of life all together that will have to be addressed in another blog post.

The family interaction piece isn’t easily understood between the two societal frameworks and this comes down to collectivism vs. individualism.  The family unit is extremely important in both, but it is central to most Latin American families for example.  Typically they spend a lot of time together and it’s common within the culture to stay living with your parents until even the 30’s, where this isn’t common in the United States as kids are bred to find their way and to make something of themselves… as soon as they can, moving out usually by 18.

The term ‘black sheep’ can be used in American families to describe the one who doesn’t seem to do like the rest, or the one who isn’t doing well, really.  Ironically, despite this being an individualistic society, the family is collective and of course!  By definition, collectivism is putting group interest ahead of individual interest.

I think I’m a black sheep in my own way.  Let’s face it, I don’t have the typical American/Coloradan lifestyle right now, which I’m happy about because I like what I’m doing, but it also terrifies me sometimes (that is slightly exaggerated for writing purposes).  Doing something different than the rest comes easier to some more than others, but don’t actions speak louder than anything?

Today I saw a brilliant picture and message, entitled Individuality.

So, societies in general are individualistic and collectivistic but each exist within one another too.  Individualism can be and is valued by many who are part of a larger collectivistic society and vice versa.  Families may be different in how they interact and show affection between the two different kinds of societies, but overall it functions best with a collective, or group attitude, which presents its own challenges sometimes.

The black sheep exists in both languages as well: la oveja negra in Spanish, and despite the negative connotation that I grew up believing about this term, I want to see it today as it’s represented in the picture, by individuality.  Although I’ve adopted a more collectivist attitude in politics and see the value of this thinking related to families and relationships, I am at the core an individual just looking for her way.  Call me a black sheep if you want.  According to this message, I’ll take it!

http://pinterest.com/pin/250653535482103815/

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