The Individual and the Collective

Lately I’ve been thinking about the role of the individual and the collective and how sometimes the individual’s desires are met at the expense of the collective’s. In particular, I’m thinking in the context of climate change. Recently I read the most horrific article about climate change predicting a genocide from it. How in some places drought will last for five years. Five years! People, I’m not too proud to admit I’m terrified, because I am.

I also thought about how we got into this mess and from my perspective anyway, it seems in many cases we put short-term gain before long-term sustainability. How some corporations decided as long as they could make a profit now, that’s all that mattered. The future? Well, that’s in the future. Worry about it then. I realize I’m painting corporations as the villain, but corporations are made up of people. I see shortsightedness in individuals as well. When I lived in London, I had a roommate who steamed a dress by running the shower while she puttered around in the bedroom. When I called her on it, she said, “Well, I pay for the water.” Her response dumbfounded me. What do you even say to that? She felt like she had every right to waste water because she paid for it. In that circumstance anyway she didn’t think about the impact of her actions. She only thought about how she wanted her dress wrinkle-free but didn’t want to expend time ironing it.

We’re all spinning on the same blue planet. Photo by NASA on Unsplash.

Sometimes we live in bubbles and think our actions don’t affect other people or our environment. We don’t think about how interdependent we all are. On the other hand, sometimes we take too much responsibility. I read another article in the Guardian about how our personal actions to combat climate change only go so far. Switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs only does so much. Of course it makes a difference, but the scale is small compared with the greenhouse gases emitted by agribusiness and factories. Many of us have bought into the idea solving climate change is the individual’s responsibility. It is. And it’s not. We must work in tandem. Carry a canvas tote bag but also put pressure on corporations to change their ways. Drive an electric car but also demand the government build better public transportation infrastructure.

This post is a little all over the place but what I’m getting at is sometimes for the good of the collective we have to sacrifice a little. Sometimes for the good of the collective we can’t think only of ourselves and what works for us. Sometimes we have to think about other people too and the environment and how all the pieces fit together. We have to remember we aren’t our own ecosystems. We aren’t islands completely removed from others. We all fit together and that means our selfish and self-centered tendencies must be reigned in. We are individuals and we are a collective. Both matter and both have a part to play. For the long-term health of the planet, we must learn to work together in harmony.

I dream of a world where we balance the needs of individuals with the needs of society as a whole. A world where we keep in mind the future and long-term sustainability of the planet and each other. A world where we learn to work in harmony for the good of all of us.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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