In America, Here’s What We Really Mean By “You Do You.”

image by Maxim Potkin from

“You do you” means blasting music and videos aloud from our cell phones, sans headphones (because why would anyone contain their own noise to just their ears anymore?) for everyone surrounding us to have to hear, whether they like it or not.

It means crowing for the right to own violent weapons that shoot hundreds of bullets in seconds, even as children and educators have been mowed down routinely in their school hallways.

It means showing brief obligatory interest in another person, and maybe even feeling some genuine curiosity, but within a minute or two, ever coming back to your main interest, which is you, your thoughts, your issues, all about you.

It means people actively rallying against the right to provide citizens with health coverage when illness can strike anyone.

It means reaching over 100,000 deaths from COVID and instead of feeling that things are improving regarding solving this crisis, that we are more divided and clueless than ever, as our aimless, toxic “leadership” continues the self-centered path to protecting the privileged few while everyone else is left to flounder and drown.

It means spending hours perfecting that selfie just so and clamoring to get a few hundred more followers on Instagram or any other social media platform. Because it’s all about me, plus gaining status, and getting attention.

It means disenfranchised cult members continuing to spread the propaganda of delusional self-empowerment even at their own expense.

It means Googling “toxic individualism” and watching the long list unfold on the screen in front of you, all in reference to America.

It means making the wearing of masks into a political statement or an infringement of your freedom, instead of the truth, which is a method for trying to protect the health of your fellow citizens, as well as yourself.

(Quick side note: there are times when wearing a mask is not effective against COVID and is merely performative, such as when outdoors and not within close vicinity to another for an extended period. Science has shown that wearing masks outside when not standing close to anyone for a long period essentially does nothing to prevent COVID. And thus, in this case, people who choose not to wear them outside aren’t lacking empathy, they might just be considering science and logic).

“You do you” means laughing in the face of another’s pain and ridiculing those who are struggling, such as Britney Spears when she was having mental health issues. As a culture, we all guffawed and saw it as entertainment.

It means government officials tweeting things like this (the tweet below by Tim Boyd is in reference to what is happening in Texas):

His sentiments are especially absurd because this isn’t people “looking for handouts” as he implies. People pay taxes in order to fund the salaries of officials like Tim so that he will then solve problems like this. It’s literally his job to figure this stuff out for citizens in his city. That aside, his words are callous and cruel to the max. This is toxic individualism at its pinnacle.

If you look closely, countries with a more collectivist culture have made way more progress flattening the curve, while individualist cultures have routinely struggled much more with this. So it’s no coincidence then that America is one of the places doing the absolute worst.

South Korea had its first confirmed case the same day as the United States: January 20, 2020. While the Trump administration called the virus a Democratic “hoax” and panicked for several weeks that it would threaten the economy during an election year, the South Korean government took swift, united action and initiated an aggressive testing program. It isn’t a coincidence that South Korea is a collectivist culture and its citizens act with a constant awareness of how their behavior affects others. Two months after the initial outbreak, the South Koreans flattened the curve.

Meanwhile, we as Americans all know where it's gone for this highly individualistic country. It’s been out of control for the entirety of the last year.

Our healthcare system only adds insult to injury. Our decentralized system is not equipped to help its citizens during a pandemic (or ever). Instead, it’s quite the opposite. The main goal of every American for-profit health insurance company and care facility is to make money — a me-first objective that does not align with public interest during this crisis or really, ever.

Instead of having one clear-cut health entity such as the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), Americans are forced to navigate a complicated bureaucracy of “in-network” and “out-of-network” healthcare providers, arcane insurance billing practices, and sky-high co-pays with surprise costs, which vary from state to state. While millions of Americans remain uninsured, with millions more set to lose their employer-sponsored plans as the economy tanks.

In Fantasyland, journalist Kurt Andersen wrote, “The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, every individual free to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control.”

These words now seem prophetic.

What it really means when someone says “you do you” in this culture is:

  • A lack of empathy and lack of consideration for the feelings and needs of others
  • A disinterest and missing curiosity toward really getting to know the life, thoughts, and experiences of another
  • An each-person-for-themselves way of thinking, at the casting aside of others
  • A way of behaving with dismissal and defensiveness toward other people (as in, ‘I feel like doing this, so I am going to, and if you don’t like it, too bad’)
  • A focus on making lots of money and gaining high status, whether at the cost of others or not
  • A priority on shallow pursuits like popularity, looking ‘perfect’, being rich, and impressing others, while not particularly caring about things like being kind, being honest, treating others well, doing the right thing, really getting to know other people, and caring for the relationships of our lives
  • “You do you” contributes to our sense of disconnection from one another, and encourages looking at our fellow citizens as “other”
  • It’s not caring how our choices or behaviors make another person feel
  • It’s thinking things like, ‘everyone can sink or swim on their own, those are their issues, not mine”
  • It’s assuming the worst about people with very little information to go on, such as, if someone makes one insensitive comment, then they automatically must be racist or sexist or ignorant or cruel. No one can ever just have a bad moment. No one can ever say something silly unintentionally without thinking. No one can ever make a mistake. One slip up and that’s it, they are terrible
  • It’s losing our ability at giving people the benefit of the doubt, being charitable, assuming that most people mean well and are doing their best

Individualism is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it can be great, and even world-changing. When someone bravely chooses to blaze a trail toward fighting tyranny or standing up and saying something important (which no one else is daring to say), when a person chooses to challenge a harmful status quo, these are moments when individualism is an important, awesome thing. These are times when we need that person who is willing to courageously break out of the box and speak up, even when it’s terrifying.

But America’s individualism is not this. It’s gone in a dangerous direction of remaining silent in the face of tyranny and getting angry over things that aren’t really the battles we should be picking. It’s gone the way of lacking empathy and forsaking others, of being highly judgemental and unkind. If we want to have any hope of saving this country, this must change.

Fervent writer. Ravenous reader. Impassioned with words. Relationship researcher. Social Scientist. Social Justice Advocate. Author.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store