Throughout most of the world people are taught to look at reality in a very polarized way. When certain issues are presented to us through mainstream circles they are usually oversimplified to the point where all concepts are either black or white, and all people are either good or bad, with no in between.
The reality of the situation is that things are much more complicated than that, there are usually many different ways of looking at things and many different sides to the story. This is especially true in the study of philosophy, because terms are constantly being redefined and ideas constantly reexamined with every new generation of philosophers to accommodate the new insight and information that has become available over time.
One polarity that is vastly misunderstood and oversimplified by the general population is that of individualism and collectivism. Now, it is true that many different people have many different ideas about what these words mean, but what really determines the true value of any concept is the consequences that come as a result of that concept being implemented by society.
The mainstream stereotype of an individualist is someone who is selfish and who has no desire at all to participate in the community. The contrasting view of a collectivist is apparently someone who cares about the tribe as a whole, so much so that they are willing to sacrifice their own well-being for the sake of the tribe. While this may be what these names have come to represent in our culture, and the stereotypes may be true in some cases, these definitions are overlooking the impact that these philosophies have on the real world and the realm of politics.
To be an individualist has nothing to do with selfishness. It is simply a way of looking at the world where you see billions of individuals, instead of various groups of people separated by race, nationality, gender, religion or social status. Oddly enough, it is collectivism that allows for people to be divided into groups and puts the innocent at risk by devaluing the lives of individuals.