There is a dynamic tension between the individual’s sense of personal worth, the need to fulfill one’s goals, aspirations and powers of action, and the needs and demands of the society within which the individual moves and acts. The society inherently looks at the individual as less important, as subordinate to the “greater needs of the greater number” when it looks at the collective life of humanity. From time to time, one or the other of these ideals takes the lead. In reality, a solution must be found that balances the need for individual growth and fulfillment with the progress and development of the society and with humanity as a whole.
Sri Aurobindo, in The Life Divine, takes up the question: “…on one side the individual is moved or invited to discover and pursue his own self-affirmation, his own development of mind and life and body, his own spiritual perfection; on the other he is called on to efface and subordinate himself and to accept the ideas, ideals, wills, instincts, interests of the community as his own. He is moved by Nature to live for himself and by something deep within him to affirm his individuality; he is called upon by society and by a certain mental idealism to live for humanity or for the greater good of the community. The principle of self and its interest is met and opposed by the principle of altruism. The State erects its godhead and demands his obedience, submission, subordination, self-immolation; the individual has to affirm against this exorbitant claim the rights of his ideals, his ideas, his personality, his conscience. It is evident that all this conflict of standards is a groping of the mental Ignorance of man seeking to find its way and grasping different sides of the turth but unable by its want of integrality in knowledge to harmonise them together. A unifying and harmonising knowledge can alone find the way, but that knowledge belongs to a deeper principle of our being to which oneness and integrality are native. It is only by finding that in ourselves that we can solve the problem of our existence and with it the problem of the true way of individual and communal life.”