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An Individual in a Society


Philosopher Jean-Paul Satre once said “Hell is other people.” This is believed to be one of the most misunderstood quotes in philosophy. I personally believe it is one of the most ambiguous. So ambiguous is this quote that it can be applied to the current situation with the Corona Virus pandemic. “Hell is other people.” To avoid going through hell, isolate oneself from other people. Maybe this is the approach health organisations should have taken to encourage people to stay at home and avoid groups.

It has been over a decade since I was in primary school, but if I was to rummage through my piles of school books and find my social studies text book it would say something like “A society is a community of people living in a particular region who share customs and/or beliefs.” However, it is important to note that societies are made up of individuals who within themselves have a set of morals and beliefs that guide their being. As such, to be an individual and to be in a society are not mutually exclusive.

If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, or taught me rather, is that the human race thrives on collective efforts. “We are all in this together”, literally. When faced with a challenge of this magnitude, societal efforts alone will help us get through. The Zambian government has put measures in place to mitigate the spread of the virus, bars, churches and other gathering places are closed. Who knew we would see a time when going to church carried just as much stigma as going to the bar?

What is defined as “societal efforts” is basically a collection of individual efforts guided towards one goal. Staying at home when you really want to visit a loved one seems like an individual effort, one that you expect to rue. On the other hand, your loved one staying at home when they too really want to see you makes the whole repression worthwhile. Both you and your loved one will be grateful you stayed home when the pandemic is over.

I believe the right modus operandi would be to carefully identify when to be an individual and when to be part of society. It is a known fact that some individuals are more charismatic, persuasive and outright powerful than other individuals. This puts such individuals at pole position to influence the direction of society. It is your task as an individual to carefully scrutinise when societal efforts seem detrimental to the society and its individuals. Sometimes rebellion fuels prosperity.

With all of this said, I believe you are an individual before you are a society. Nourish the spirit you would like to see in your society in yourself first and your path will be made clear.

THEMBA is a recent Development Studies graduate from the University of Lusaka. This piece is the dissection of Society and Individuality with regards to their roles in during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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