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FIERCE INDIVIDUALISM: Our Best and Worst National Value

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Climate change is tied with the Islamic State as the most-feared security threat across much of the world — except in the United States, where it is the third-most severe perceived threat, after ISIS and cyberwarfare. Just 56 percent of Americans surveyed, identified global warming as the most serious threat to the country according to a poll released by the Pew Research Center last week. Why is this? Does our fierce individualism lead to a belief that we have all the answers ourselves and aren’t connected to the greater ecosystem that sustains all existence?

My yoga teacher said in passing yesterday, that a guy he knew had taken yoga classes for two weeks and decided he could improve the postures. He opened his own studio shortly thereafter and began teaching yoga. After telling the story he said, “only in America.”

Why did he add “only in America?” As a product of the American culture I have started three businesses with not much more than US optimism and a belief in myself. Did they all succeed? No. Did I pick myself up and start anew? Yes. Who does this?  “We” do. We (Americans) have been taught to believe in ourselves from day one. I remember as a young child wanting to do something that my friends were doing and my mom would say, “If Sara is going to jump off the roof, would you do that too?” I was taught to think for myself and to listen to my own voice for as long as I can remember.

This fierce individualism is why people from around the world, despite our many imperfections as a nation, still want to live here and pursue their dreams for themselves and their children.

But what happens when this American spirit that has created Apple, Facebook and Amazon goes too far? What happens when we pursue our own dreams to such a degree that we disconnect or “leave” the communities that imparted these “successful” values behind?

Most of the world is operating from a more collectivistic or group-oriented perspective, where identity is tied to family, community, relationship circles. Individual risk-taking is much less common when a slew of “others” are part of the decision-making process. Where do you fall on this spectrum and what is the best path forward for a safer, more sustainable future for ALL of us?

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