Dear Individual

Courtesy of Pixabay by Gerd Altmann

“For the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world.” (Siddhārtha Gautama) It is easy to get lost in personal problems, goals, and accomplishments and forget how to sympathize with the people around us. When this happens, the greater good of the community is compromised by the self interest in individual success.

In Catfish & Mandala, a recurring motif is the individual being greater than the community. Many Vietnamese immigrants came to the U.S. and “forgot” about their loved ones back home knowing the poverty they continued to live in. “How can people refuse to help when they are living in a country where a teenager can earn more money in a day than a Vietnamese teacher earns a month,” (Pham p. 204). Why is society driven by individual interest when they can offer aid to their community? In this case, a milk girl in Vietnam tells An about how her aunt immigrated to the United States and she still hasn’t heard anything from her. The aunt’s success in escaping poverty undermined the benefits she could have provided for her community back in Vietnam.

The greater good of the community is often left behind for the self interest of an individual however, Dinaw Mengestu’s essay, Home at Last, touches upon his struggle as an immigrant to fit into a community. A community may only exist if people assimilate. While the example from Catfish & Mandala shows how greed can make a community suffer, Mengestu’s story about finding his own community in Kensington–a neighborhood in Brooklyn, indicates how at the end of the day the commonalities between people create a stronger community. Mengestu states, “…what I admired and adored about Kensington, was the assertion that we can rebuild and remake ourselves and our communities over and over again…” (Mengestu p. 341). Mengestu wasn’t in Kensington for egocentric purposes. He was simply trying to find a community where he belonged. This instance shows how the community does not suffer from the self interest of others.

I feel as though I have been sheltered by my immigrant parents from all the greed and self interest there is in this world. That is not to say that I am not deeply thankful for their hard work in creating a better life for my brother and I. As I am growing older I am beginning to see a common trait among people. While it is important to look after ourselves, at what cost are we willing to neglect our communities?

At age twelve, my parents took us to their hometowns in Romania. My cousins and I walked down the streets of Brașov to get ice cream. I asked my dad for five dollars to get it converted which ended up being twenty Romanian Leu. Enough to buy my cousins and I ice cream with change remaining. As we walked home, eyes sparkling, licking away at our ice cream cones this thin little girl, in a light pink battered t-shirt, with mis-matching sandals, came up to me and tugged on my shirt, begging me to buy her some ice cream. I immediately took out the rest of my change, offering it to her. Instantly my older cousin seized the money from my hand. She told me, “you can not give them money or else they will continue to beg for more.” The little girl’s poor mother showed up and grabbed her daughter running off. Her trailing words, “I can’t afford to buy you ice cream today.”

I was incredibly shocked by the whole situation. My cousin said “them.” She referred to the people that make up her community as if they were nothing more than coyotes scavenging the streets for food. The community is not the problem. The individual is. I will never forget the hurt and shame in the mother’s eyes. I was infuriated that my cousin took away the money before I had the chance to give it to the little girl. I confronted my cousin. She scoffed, “Not all of us were born in America with money that grows on trees.” I knew my family’s financial circumstances in the U.S. were different, yet I knew her family was well off to the point she could offer enough money for one ice cream cone. I was baffled that we were arguing over such a low amount of money I was going to offer. Then again, it’s not her fault she had been told by her parents to avoid doing this. My cousin, like many people, was so focused on her own benefit and what we could have done with the leftover money, she didn’t realize how it could have impacted others. That ice cream cone would have lit up the little girl’s eyes and her mother would have rejoiced to see her daughter smile.

If we can not find it in ourselves to put our individual needs aside, our community will suffer. Is one person’s success worth anything at all if their community is impaired? It is evident that every person struggles when finding a balance between what benefits themselves and what supports the people around them. It is crucial to recognize that the greater good of a community can be compromised by self interest and find ways to limit this.

Altmann, George. Geralt. Pixabay, 6 May 2020, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/individual-personal-magnifying-glass-5131427/ Accessed 15 January 2021

Pham, A. Catfish & Mandala: a Vietnamese Odyssey. Flamingo, 2001.

Shea Renée Hausmann, et al. The Language of Composition: Reading, Writing, Rhetoric. Bedford, Freeman & Worth, 2019.

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