Communities and Individuals

When coexistent, do communities benefit individuals and how?

Communities and individuals. Two distinct ideas yet both coexist within our world. To understand this deep and vast relationship, we must first attain comprehension of what exactly communities and individuals are.

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A Community

Photo ©2009 by Yoel Ben-Avraham [CC-by-2.0]

What is a community? According to professional and legitimate definitions, a community can be defined as a group of people who share characteristics with one another, whether they be moral, political, physical, emotional, or social. To be honest, I never really agree with definitions because they are usually strict and exclusive, but in this case, I find the definition to be sufficient and concurrent with my very own idea of a community: a group of anything, large or small, human or not, where that which makes up the group is connected through traits and characteristics. Communities do not have to have a unanimous opinion on all aspects of life; in fact, it makes for a much more diverse and stronger community if there are a few contrasting perspectives within those that make up the community.

What is an individual? Unlike the standardized definition for a community, the orthodox interpretation of an individual is a single person who is distinguished from a group. I disagree with this accepted definition because individuals may not always be just one person, and it is possible that the individual may not necessarily be distinguished from the group. Individuals can be just as inconspicuous as the rest of the community. However, it is the individuals, when coming together, that form the community.

Now that you get a better understanding of individuals and communities, I have a question for you that I, myself, found very intriguing. When coexistent, do communities benefit individuals, and how? When I first saw this question, it was something that I believed could easily be answered. “Of course communities benefit the individual. That’s why communities exist: to support the individuals of the community.” However, through many series of reading, watching, and researching, I found that a question like this has quite the unpredictable answer.

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The Scarlet Letter

Photo ©2012 by Mary Vandenberg [CC-by-2.0]

I started the research with a novel. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, to be precise. It was fascinating, reading such an intense, mysterious, and suspenseful book. In addition to the thrill and enjoyment of the reading, The Scarlet Letter also provided me with answers to my question. When coexistent, do communities benefit individuals, and how? Using Hawthorne’s novel, there were numerous answers that I found to help me answer this question.

 

In brief, The Scarlet Letter is a story of a young woman, Hester Prynne, who moved to the Americas during colonial times. During this time, Prynne was married to a European man by the name of Roger Chillingworth who, at the time, was still in Europe. Chillingworth, once moving to the Americas, finds that Prynne has cheated on him and committed adultery with, as it was later revealed, Arthur Dimmesdale. Pearl was born as a result of the adultery

 

Using The Scarlet Letter, I found many intriguing answers to my question. First off, on page 240 (pages may vary depending on book edition) of the novel, Hawthorne writes, “Hester Prynne did not now occupy precisely the same position in which we beheld her during the earlier periods of her ignominy. Years had come and gone. Pearl was now seven years old. Her mother, with the scarlet letter on her breast, glittering in its fantastic embroidery, had long been a familiar object to the townspeople.” From this excerpt, I was able to interpret the situation in which Hester was in within the community. Settling in a Puritan society, Hester Prynne was a terrible person who committed the grave sin of adultery. For this, she was locked away in prison and forced to always wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest as an emblem of her sin. Still, after being let out of the prison and becoming involved within the society as a sewer, the community accepts her and even praises her for her fantastic craftsmanship in sewing. Hester’s community eventually supported her, leading her to undergo a sensational transformation from becoming a demonic and hated sinner, to a well-respected and accomplished woman in the Puritan community. In this situation, the individual, through support from the community, received a beneficial change.

 

The examples from Hawthorne’s masterpiece do not end there. On page 177, the novel describes Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s ex-husband. “As his [Chillingworth’s] studies, at a previous period of his life, had made him extensively acquainted with the medical science of the day, it was as a physician that he presented himself and as such was cordially received.” This passage illustrated the idea that the community is capable of transforming and changing the lives of individuals. Before, this transformation was Hester’s integration into society. In this instance, Chillingworth is being “reborn” in a sense. Due to his powerful status in Europe and medical abilities, the community accepted and supported him. This positively benefitted Chillingworth, because, although the Puritan society that accepted him did not know, there would be nowhere for Chillingworth to go as he would be known as the man who could not keep his wife. Especially during this era, Chillingworth situation was most definitely unfavorable. However, because the community was accepting and assisted Chillingworth, he prospered as an individual.

 

The last bit of evidence that helped support my answer for the question was found on page 389. “So Pearl—the elf child—the demon offspring, as some people up to that epoch persisted in considering her— became the richest heiress of her day in the New World.” To me, this was the most influential and powerful evidence in the entire novel. Pearl, who was deemed the result of sin, called a child of the devil, and referred to as hardly human, became the richest heiress in the New World. How? How did this come to be? Where did she gain all this wealth and power when in her childhood she was treated poorly by the community? That’s when I realized that it was the community that created her destiny. In her childhood, she was hated by her society, thus her being as an individual was hindered. However, growing older, she became a beautiful woman respected by the communities of the world, resulting in her extravagant gain in wealth and a bolstered life as an individual.

 

However, The Scarlet Letter also provided answers to refute my initial answer to the question. On page 245, Hawthorne describes the negative changes that have occurred to Hester Prynne as a result of the burden of the scarlet letter “A.” “It was a sad transformation, too, that her rich and luxuriant hair had either been cut off, or was so completely hidden by a cap, that not a shining lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine.” This scene shows how the community hurts individuals as Hester was changed by the Scarlet Letter, and in this case, her transformation is described as a result of the burden of the city and society. Therefore, it shows the negative effects of a community on the individual.

 

If I had to take one thing away from evidence that I obtained from The Scarlet Letter, it would have to be that communities benefit the individual because they help strengthen the individual and allow them to develop within the community, almost as though the community is nurturing the individual. Still, it is also possible for the community to hurt the individual as shown by the change in Hester Prynne as a cause of the burden of the community.

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Literature Photo ©2010 by gacabo [CC-by-2.0]
Outside Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, there is a multitude of other sources that help answer this question more thoroughly. Using my school’s The Language of Composition book, I was able to find sources in Chapter 6: Community. These sources helped me further my understanding of the interaction between communities and individuals. Using the book, I found that the community helps spread ideas of an individual, thus benefitting the individual.

For example, in Chapter 6: Community, there is a passage from Martin Luther King Jr., in which he states, “But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here… I [am] compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my hometown.” During this time, Martin Luther King Jr. was advocating equality across all races, most specifically between whites and blacks. Therefore, with this statement from King Jr. himself, it is obvious that, although the status of the community was poor, Luther King still used the community to benefit himself by spreading his ideas and developing as a human. Surely if there was no injustice within Baltimore (the community), then he would not have a reason to spread his teachings, and thus, his ideas as an individual and his progression as an individual would be hindered. This was intriguing to me. For the first time, a community actually contained bad intentions towards the individual, yet the individual still benefitted from the situation. This made me realize that communities can benefit the individual through various ways that may very well seem the opposite of what it actually is. This is one such case.

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Martin Luther KIng Jr. Picture ©2014 by Dan Bug [CC-by-2.0]
Another example that I found in The Language of Composition was from Ellen Goodman’s passage about family. Goodman first builds upon the idea of a community, in this case, family, being capable of helping an individual by initially creating tension between the community and individual. She stated that the extended families can neglect and even bring down the individual. Nevertheless, she then writes that “When it [extended families] works, it can provide a support system of sorts.” The extended families not only support one another but also have “all sorts of relationships” and share ideas to understand each other individually and grow. In this way, the community is capable of aiding more than one individual.

 

David Thoreau’s excerpt from The Language of Composition was especially interesting to me. In his passage, Thoreau states, “For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think that there are very few important communications made through it.” Essentially, what he is saying is that he feels that the community is not needed. In this situation, the post-office is the community. This is interesting because Thoreau does not blatantly state that communities are beneficial or harmful towards individuals. After reading these sources, I began to wonder why they vary from the idea of the interaction between communities and individuals that was formed from researching The Scarlet Letter.

 

As a final institution for my efforts into answering the question, I began to look towards other pieces of evidence, outside of literature. I decided to look towards the direction of reality, as there really is no better and reliable source than the sources that stem real experiences and life. The first area that I researched was in the field of biology. In biology, the community depends on the various individuals within the community. At the same time, however, the individual also relies on the community for food, prey, predators, life, water, equilibrium, and relationships (symbiotic, parasitic, etc.) In this way, the animals and individuals in a community rely on the community to give it life and empower it. Through the support of the community, the individual benefits.

 

Another example that I found was in a Nike advertisement commercial. Here’s the commercial.

This video shows Lebron James, a great individual basketball player, relying on his teammates and community to help him in a very important game. Similar to the previous example, this commercial portrays how the community can empower an individual, no matter how great or poor the individual is.

Nonetheless, just like all the other resources used, there are also examples that contradict the idea that a community always benefits individuals. With the use of reality as a source, I found that conditions such as cyber-bullying are instances in which this contradiction is evident. The communities of the world have advanced with the new technological innovations, and thus, the communities have created opportunities to deflate individuals down and lower their self-esteems and confidence. In this way, the societies of the world are hurting individuals.

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Thinking Photo ©2011 by Wesley Nitsckie [CC-by-2.0]

Had this been the end of my thinking about the question, I would have answered that considering my sources, the communities definitely benefit the individual. Through a variety of ways, the communities will help and aid individuals. Although there are some instances where communities may seem dull, useless, and even harmful, the positives of societies outweigh the negatives. Societies help individuals because they nurture individuals and give them the support they need, allow individuals to develop ideas and theories while spreading them at the same time, and help elevate and empower individuals to new heights that they would not be capable of without the community.

 

In many ways, this preliminary answer is not wrong. It would have been my answer. However, I began to wonder why all of my sources had such fluctuating answers. There was no concrete answer that was reflected across all three of my sources. Why was that? That’s when I just began to think to myself. I tried to find a pattern within the research, hoping to an ultimate, irrefutable conclusion. After many hours of thinking and trying to identify trends and patterns, this is what I came up with.

 

When I used Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter as a source, all of my evidence and examples displayed similar ideas regarding the interaction of the community and the individual. However, when I used The Language of Composition, my interpretations of the examples used was not consistent. In other words, The Scarlet Letter was extremely consistent, and The Language of Composition was quite erratic. This is because Hawthorne already had a set idea of what he wanted the community and individual to represent within his novel. Therefore, the absolute consistency of his examples would be natural. The Language of Composition, however, used passages from a multitude of different people, all with different backgrounds, ideas, morals, etc. Obviously, this would conceive deviation among the examples. Using this logic, I attempted to analyze the real life examples, but to no avail as I was completely stumped as to why this source also produced slightly varying answers.

 

The reason for this uncertainty and unclear conclusion of the question is life. Life is a random and spontaneous reality that cannot be predicted. Why was it that I was unable to come to an absolute conclusion? It is because life and its constituents (communities and individuals) are unpredictable, the effect that communities have on individuals also unpredictable. So, when coexistent, do communities benefit individuals and how?

 

Yes, communities are capable of benefitting the individuals, although this is not always the case. Communities are also capable of hurting individuals, but through my research, I found that more often than not, communities assist the individual. How? In my previous answer, I gave you some specific examples of how communities benefit, but also hurt, individuals. Yet now, my only answer for you is that it is completely unpredictable how the community will benefit or hurt the individual. The only way to know is for you find out for yourself.

~ Samuel Le

 

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