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Two Sides of the Same Coin

The pursuit of happiness is the religion of our society. We live our lives according to what benefits us personally the most. Perhaps the only exceptions are obligations to family, or duty to country. For most of us though, we may care for others, but our highest obligation is to ourselves and trying to prosper our lives. This idea is uniquely American and even the great religions that live within its borders are susceptible to the allure of living for yourself.

America is largely home to many Christian denominations, as well as Islam, Buddhism, and other beliefs that we often refer to as ‘eastern religions’. Because of its history in American culture, it is easy to forget that Christianity itself is an eastern religion, because of its origins in the Middle East. Although these religions are all different, they share one common theme; an expected obligation to others. Islam with its submission to Allah, Hinduism with its obligation to family and the caste system according to some interpretations, and even Christianity with its obligation to both God and the Christian community.

Followers of these beliefs defined themselves by how they lived in conjunction with these extrovert factors. An individual’s fate may also be included as well, such as if they shamed or dishonored their obligation. They could suffer anything from being excommunicated from the family, to being killed by those very family members.

While this was how human society largely existed in the past, it’s literally a foreign concept to us now. In comparison to this extroverted definition, our individualism is very introverted. We can still suffer humiliation or feel embarrassed, but it does not prevent us from going forward. It does not have to linger over us or our families as it would in older, eastern societies.

We can see reflections of these different ethics today. What to us seems to be indiscriminate killing against noncombatants, is seen by people there as they guilty by association. We see when we watch a movie like The Last Samurai, and think that it may be admirable to keep your honor even unto death, but when many of us are put in a situation that would compromise our integrity, we often back out and defend our actions with, ‘don’t judge me’ and ‘it’s my life’. And this is often done in the pursuit of personal happiness, whether immediate or long term.

The difference between introverted individualism and extroverted obligation are opposite extremes; two sides of the same coin. While there are always more complicated factors in our understanding of each other, much of it can be traced back to these two opposing lifestyles.

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