Definitions of identity vary from culture to cultural awareness. In individualistic cultures, a person is seen as an individual, with a unique personality and a distinctive set of qualities or characteristics that set him or her apart from other individuals. These cultures situate one’s identity within the person himself or herself. Moreover, a person’s behavior points to his or her identity. Developing a distinctive identity that allows one to function independently is viewed as a necessary part of human development. For instance, part of growing up is learning to be on one’s own apart from one’s family. Individualistic cultures are found in countries such as the United States, Australia, and the Netherlands. Collectivistic cultures see people as interdependent. In other words, the person is viewed as an entity that cannot be separated from others or the surrounding culture. Behavior stems from relationships with others. Rather than asserting one’s uniqueness, people in collectivistic cultures will be more apt to evaluate themselves in terms of their abilities to interact with others in a harmonious fashion. Collectivistic cultures view growing up differently than individualistic cultures. The emphasis is on “we” rather than “me.” In collectivistic cultures, the self is defined through a web of relationships with one’s family members and others. This kind of perspective is typical of many cultures in
South and Central America, Asia, and Africa. How might the difference between these two types of cultures, for example, affect how we approach retirement in the United States? Those with an individualistic orientation are more likely to make the arrangements necessary, financial and otherwise, to prepare for their new lifestyle once they retire. Even in old age, self-reliance is valued. Collectivistic-oriented individuals living in the United States are more apt to rely on their children to take care of them as they get older.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ETHNICITY
One significant component of cultural identity is our ethnic identity, meaning an awareness of belonging to a social group that shares a common culture. A common culture may embrace a variety of traits, including religion, history, nationality, language, and geography. Given that ethnic identity is such a broad term, there is Given that ethnic identity is such a broad term, there is apt to be considerable cultural diversity within an ethnic group. For example, people in the United States who identify themselves as “American” share many distinctive ethnic identities. Also, people who see themselves belonging to a broader, more inclusive Latin culture may further identify with different Caribbean, Central American, and South American cultures. In Figure 2.2, data from the Zogby Culture Polls illustrate how six groups in the United States feel about the importance of their ethnic heritage.