Thanks to my Soliya family, I gained the chance to be more aware of what other cultures are about through the multiple realizations they shared. In every Soliya session, my mates and I discussed a specific topic but we mostly focused on the differences between cultures we present. However, what caught my attention the most, was the diversity of the concept of Individualism through different cultures. We were asked in our Soliya sessions to share personal experiences as individualists. And since most of my mates are westerns, I’ve noticed that their experiences are different from my own for that their concept of Individualism has a whole different meaning from ours here in Tunisia and the Middle East countries in general.
The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of inter-dependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people’s self-image is defined in terms “I” or “We”. In most of the Western societies, Individualism is a view that stresses the importance and worth of each person, it’s the one side. In individualist societies, the ties between individuals are loose: people are expected to look after themselves and their immediate family only. The United States, for instance, is an individualistic country. The “American dream” is clearly a representation of this. This is the Americans’ hope for a better quality of life and a higher standard of living than their parents’. This belief is that anyone, regardless of their status can raise themselves from poverty. At the age of 18, each person should move out from his parents’ and live alone, study and work until they graduate, find jobs and get married. It’s about self-reliance, responsibility and independence. Individualism in the West is not a choice.
However, in Tunisia, the concept of Individualism is restrained in the years of college or university when students get the chance to live alone and not with their families but this doesn’t mean that they become fully independent for they don’t work when studying and they move back home when finishing studying. So mainly Individualism in Tunisia is the responsibility to develop, through programs, a space for young people, educators and others to realize their Human Rights and to develop a cognitive understanding of them. In this respect, Human Rights Education is about building relationships with oneself, with others and within and across communities. I would say that here in Tunisia we have only half the concept Individualism and that almost every Tunisian is a half-independent or half-individualist for people don’t get the chance to fully rule their own lives before getting married or make whatever decisions they want.
When it comes to The United Arab Emirates, as a Collectivist society, the concept of Individualism doesn’t exist. There is no “I” but only “We”. In collectivist societies people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. This is manifest in a close long-term commitment to the member ‘group’, be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount, and over-rides almost other societal rules and regulations. The society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility to fellow members of their groups.
This experience testified to some points, the main one is that there is no unifying culture that is recognizable to all people, everywhere. Nevertheless, the pressure and expectation to behave in certain ways is a common experience of a family for it is possible that people from the same culture disagree.