Achievement not an individual endeavor

Commencement is almost here. It’s a time to see family, take pictures and get nostalgic with your classmates.

Of course, it’s also a time to be self-centered. Commencement ultimately exists to celebrate individual achievement. And, hey, if you’re managing to actually graduate — whether it’s in three years or six — you deserve to pat yourself on the back. You deserve to imagine a flashy future for yourself, possibly a future in which a campus building is in your name.

Jonathan Zhang | Daily Trojan

Though this attitude is excusable at commencement, it’s best not to carry it beyond May 11. Individual achievement is important, but we could all use a healthy dose of collectivism.

The official definition of collectivism is fairly neutral: According to Merriam-Webster, collectivism entails “emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity.”

Nevertheless, in America, collectivism conjures strange and unpleasant images, most of which are probably related to communist Soviet Union.

The United States is one of the most staunchly individualistic countries in the world. Here, we’re taught to stand out and get ahead — preferably on our own, you freeloader. We learn that if we don’t speak up and advocate for our interests, our go-getting peers will leave us in the dust.

Colleges certainly push this mentality. I’m sure commencement speaker Christiane Amanpour will tell us to be leaders. I can’t imagine she’ll tell us to blend in.

In collectivist societies, however, people who focus too much on their own wants and needs are seen as nuisances. The group’s goals reign supreme.

It’s difficult to imagine that mentality at USC. Here, we’re encouraged to highlight our differences and pursue ambitious goals. The more we look like special snowflakes, the happier the administration is. Few of us are going to become hardcore collectivists anytime soon.

But we have to remember that people rarely make it alone. You don’t exist in a vacuum; like it or not, you’re defined by the groups to which you belong. In fact, a collectivist would say that without the group, the self is practically nothing.

As members of an individualistic society, we love heroes. We eat up stories that focus on one man’s struggle or one woman’s brilliant idea. But when everyone tries to lead, there’s no one left to work behind the scenes.

It’s tempting to chase the spotlight, but I firmly believe that the most valuable goal isn’t to be seen as great — it’s to do great things, no matter who gets recognized in the end. Should the time be right, the spotlight will find you on its own.


Maya Itah is a senior majoring in communication. Her column, “Tackling the ‘-Isms,’” runs every other Thursday.    


2 replies
  1. Jett Rucker
    Jett Rucker says:

    There are two evil forms of collectivism, both very much alive and well in today’s America: one is enforced collectivism (taxes and regulations are common forms of this) and the other, perhaps partly a response to the first, is the “herd mentality,” in which anyone not conforming to the dominant opinions is condemned, ostracized, marginalized, even persecuted.

    Questioning the dominant version of the Holocaust story, for example, is an excellent way to fall victim to a pernicious herd mentality that has been purposefully drilled into all us pursuant – in many states and countries – to LAW that requires that it be crammed down the throats of hapless schoolchildren.

    A nasty correlate of collectivism can be intolerance (of those daring to think for themselves, and perhaps even express those thoughts).

    But the post also points up valuable truths: if NONE of us will follow (rather than lead), the result must be chaos. For my part, I’ve chosen to follow a small but growing cadre of writers and researchers seeking the truths that underlie the Holocaust legend. Ultimately, inspiring leadership is not possible without inspired followership.

    And THAT is getting harder and harder as enforcement of collectivism expands.

  2. man up
    man up says:

    Tempting trap to fall into. However, this is America. We stand for the values of staunch individualism, self-reliance, and hard-work and virtue as a path to personal success. But nice try. See you in the winner’s circle.

Comments are closed.