Zachariah: Fort Collins should be less individualistic, more collective

Tianna Zachariah

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board. 

Societies either have individualist cultures or collectivist ones. Both are valuable, and both can have unfavorable side effects. Americans are individualistic in comparison to other countries. This can be both good and bad.

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It is good in the sense that America is a society that values success and achievement on a personal level. Americans are always growing and striving to be better individually. However, this can also be an impediment in the sense of individual responsibility when it comes to addressing social problems within the community.

Because collectivist cultures are community oriented, individuals take more responsibility in the well-being of fellow citizens. Adopting a more collectivist approach would benefit society. It would place more responsibility on individuals to do their part in making sure communities thrive. In order to enact this kind of change, we start by shifting to a more community-oriented perspective. Then we decide to actually see the people who struggle within our community and volunteer to do something about it.

People in individualistic cultures do not often identify with others outside of family, friend groups or other identity based organizations. This is an issue, because when identity is found solely in oneself, it is harder to empathize with other people’s struggles. We distance ourselves from them and their situations, and it becomes easier to turn a blind eye to sufferings because they don’t directly affect us.

This idea is the equivalent of the Colorado State University ideal that “Rams take care of Rams.” Because students identify with CSU and bond with others over this common identity, students not only find pleasure in taking care of fellow Rams, but see it as a duty. If someone hurts a Ram, it threatens the entire collective identity, and as a Ram, we feel responsible for doing something about it.

This mentality needs to spill over into other areas of life. As growing individuals trying to find our place in this world, we need to make it our duty to care about all people, not only those in our circle.

Take for example homelessness in Fort Collins. According to Emily Wilmsen, a PR Coordinator for the City of Fort Collins, 19 percent of the population is homeless. Students are keenly aware of this issue from the many articles written about it in the collegian.

The student organization, Get to Know Your Neighbors, has done a phenomenal job of taking steps to address the homeless community in Fort Collins. This club is the perfect example of how we could take responsibility for the well-being of everyone in our community.

We need to have the courage to look at the homeless in our community, to see their lives. We need to have the compassion to acknowledge the hatred and tragedies in our community. We need to feel the separation.

Once we start actually seeing the areas we fall short, we will we be able to change and improve it. It is impossible to create solutions when the problem is not even acknowledged. When we start seeing the things that people in our community are struggling with, only then can we start to tackle these social problems. We will be more equipped and comfortable to stand with each other during both the good and the bad.

Build a community around which you can feel attached to and around which you can feel a social responsibility to protect. If all of us built a community like this, our Fort Collins culture would be one of acceptance, transformation, growth and peace.  

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To make an impact on the homeless community in Fort Collins and other community-centered initiatives, visit the Fort Collins Rescue Mission, Outreach Fort Collins or Fort Collins Homeless Coalition.

Tianna Zachariah can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @TZachariah20