Individualism vs. Collectivism – Canadian and Pakistani Culture

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Reading in social psychology class about the difference between individualistic and collectivist cultures made me realize the clash of cultures I have been raised in.

Western culture tends to be individualistic, which has its pros and cons. The benefits of such a culture are that individual freedom and uniqueness is valued, and people are judged based on their personal merits and accomplishments. The problems associated with such cultures are that relationships are considered voluntary and therefore not valued as such. This is possibly why there are so many divorces/falling out with friends in the West.

Eastern culture tends to be more collectivist. The benefits of such a culture are that you are always helping others who are in your group in a communal sort of living, and relationships are obligatory so family relations as well as romantic relationships are valued much more. The problems associated with these cultures however are that individual freedom as a concept does not exist; one must conform to the cultural mores of the group. People are also judged based on a hierarchy, instead of personal merits, and are usually addressed in terms of relations (i.e. this is so-and-so’s son etc.).

A study was done in which there were 10 black pens and 1 red one, and people were asked to choose a pen. Western people almost always chose the red one, while Eastern people (from the Orient, Southasia and the Middle East) almost always chose one of the black pens.

Another study was done on IBM employees from both the East and the West. They were asked whether they would keep a young person who performs very efficiently on the company, or an older employee who has worked for the past 15 years but doesn’t work efficiently now. You can guess the answers from the East and West.

Growing up as a Pakistani-Canadian, I feel both individualistic and collectivist tendencies within me. I personally value uniqueness and individual freedom yet also value relationships.

According to this map based on research, Pakistan is THE most collectivist society in the world (along with China). This is not surprising. In Pakistani culture, parents basically dominate the life decisions of their children, including career and marriage. Also, being different in any way from the cultural mores of Pakistanis causes at least suspicion or insults and at most complete stigmatization. In collectivist cultures, decisions are not valued based on personal freedom but based upon collectivist reasons such as bringing honour to the family. This is why children are told to become doctors when they grow up, and at the extreme this is also why honour killings happen.

To roughly determine whether you are more individualistic or collectivist, ask yourself ‘Who are you?’ If your answers are personal traits, you are probably more individualistic and if your answers are examples of how you know people or contextual situations (i.e. ‘I work hard for my job’) you are probably more collectivist.

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2 thoughts on “Individualism vs. Collectivism – Canadian and Pakistani Culture

  1. summerpena03 says:

    I am highly individualistic and grew up in Texas in America. My husband, on the other hand is a first generation Mexican. He is more like you with pieces of individualistic tendencies but collectivist as well. He definitely values family contributions over individual ones, and will go to me or his parents before he makes a decision. His culture puts emphasis on discussing physical and mental health issues among family members before seeking help, because they’re advice is more important than whatever decision the individual makes on their own. Also, he is Mormon and the LDS faith I believe is slightly more collectivist than individualistic.

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