Saturday, June 09, 2012

The value of the individual

Supposedly western culture values the individual more highly than other cultures. It is said that individualism is a fault of western culture. I don't agree with the latter and I don't know about the former.

Stories like the two below challenge me to reassert the rights of the individual. How can people be so basically uncaring?

Dr Bongi wrote this about an incident several years ago:

"good evening sisters." no answer, unless silence is an answer. "sorry to bother you but the patient in bed 5 in cubicle d is in a bit of distress."

"we'll check on her now now." i knew what
now now meant in our strange south african english. now now was not as soon as now and implied no urgency. now now was not as now as i wanted it to be.
"mamma, i'm here" i whispered as i approached her bed, just in case she was asleep. she lay with her head to one side. she didn't stir. i walked closer and took her hand. it was cold and clammy. i leaned towards her face. even in the darkness i could see her eyes were open, but they were fixed in the stare of death. she had died alone and i had failed her completely.

Please read the whole story here. It's heartbreaking.

And Cheri shares about something that happened just the other day.

They took her back to that hospital several times over the next two weeks, only to be told there was nothing wrong, and were sent home.  By the time her frantic parents finally got someone to pay attention a week ago, the hospital-acquired blood infection had thrown her into multisystem failure.

This is also a heartbreaking story. Read it here.


Steve Hayes said...

Sad stories, but there is a difference between an individual and a person. An individual is alone, a numerical cipher in a mass. A person is a person because of people. Those instances were not failures of individualism, but rather the culmination of individualism. They were failures in ubuntu.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

I'm not sure. A think an individual is one unit of a community, not a number.
But you've made me look at it differently. I wonder if it is a western expectation that ubuntu should preserve the individual (or person). Is that its function. Or rather to preserve the community. I need to think a bit more!

Steve Hayes said...

Western modernity has gone to two extremes -- individualism on the one hand, collectivism on the other.

Ubuntu is the notion that a person is a person because of people (Zulu proverb, Umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu). And the corolory is that a community is a community (koinonia) because of persons in relationship. The people in the stories you told clearly know nothing of ubuntu.

By the way, I mentioned the stories in a post on my blog here The boy who could see demons | Khanya.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Steve - thanks for the link! (Sent my technorati rating up into the 400's).