Taking Down the Berlin Wall in 1989
The Foundation for Social Change
The first step is understanding why our society changes. One would imagine greater personal freedoms and happiness would be the prime motivators. The reality is that social change occurs as the result of two opposing forces:
- our need for greater personal freedom and satisfaction
- our communal need to produce, sustain and grow
The economic demand of our community requires our time and energy in order to contribute to all of our needs: physical, social, or otherwise. Our society shifts when we collectively realize a better way of living. When a more productive, efficient, and satisfying option is opened we are quick to adapt it into our community. Within society as a whole there are many micro-communities. Each of these entities is further customized to fulfill the needs of its members. Some ideal qualities that have developed in common to societies include:
- peaceful resolution of differences
- collaborative work on large projects
- shared responsibility for the care of children and elderly
While there are fundamental principles that support a healthy community, the society we grow up in can be radically different than the one our parents did. It is incumbent upon our openess as a group, to continually seek out better ways of solving old problems. This is of particular interest due to one of the ongoing goals I have for writing, changing the way our society values how we match our passions and our work.
Recently I have become concerned that shifting this social view may not be possible. With the current state of unemployment and the economy's contraction, the counter voice to this form of social change is pragmatic. People are willing to take any work as long as they aren't suffering in order to pay their bills and survive. Folks don't care about what those jobs are, they don't care about what they're doing. They are willing to tolerate unhappiness, dissatisfaction, disinterest, as long as they are getting a paycheck. "No man is an island" is a quote that comes to mind, and I don't want insular thinking to blind me from what is plausible. One of the greatest contributions I can make, is to convince a necessary number of minds that people all over the world will be much more productive doing something they love. Some would argue that certain jobs defy emotional attachment, and my counter would be that perhaps some of these jobs should cease to be. A commonly accepted "undesirable job" type is sanitation or janitorial work. It can be a physical demanding role, surrounded by foul odors and toxic cleaning solutions. My counter argument is that there can be satisfaction in performing those duties. Our preconceived notions blind us to what others may find appealing. The greatest champion of this concept Mike Rowe, has done much to revisit how we view "Dirty Jobs". He's doing his best to bring further glory and honor to necessary roles in our society that can provide immense satisfaction. The more of oneself that enhances an effort, the greater value that work has.
Without wide scale acceptance or validation within businesses/start-ups the idea of each of us loving our work may never gain traction.
How Do We Take Down the Walls to Social Change?
It begins with our education. We are told to do, told to remember and learn but never without any personal cause. If we are inclined to be educated it is a coincidence rather than a causation of our early social system. Never (until later in the game) are we given choices. We aren't allowed to discover and explore information that we find interesting and pertinent to our own lives. We have entire systems that develop followers, and people that are socially well behaved. Folks that fall out of the structure, those that are rebellious for any number of reasons, are left behind and punished. One of the most powerful things we can do as people is work collaboratively on a project, and throughout our younger educational years we are tested solely in isolation.
Another great potential for social change, is personalized and customized education. We can create a learning system that adaptively reacts to the needs and interests of the student and challenge our future generations to push and learn, as far as they are inclined to go. Why should we ever inhibit learning? There may be topics that are emotionally beyond the student, but that is one of the few exceptions for limiting access to information. Instead we can continually introduce kids to a variety of interests to identify their greatest passions. There is no greater energy than that of our youth. Innovation can be found in how they see problems and invent solutions.
The major friction to affecting positive social change is momentum. Enacting any large scale shift in what is commonly accepted, requires acceptance by an influencial minimum subset of any community. Large scale social change will take time for adoption. Much like the spread of innovative technology, the propagation of social change overcomes the critical tipping point by harnessing the attention of early adopters. The early adopters of social change are likely to question the status quo and sample new methods within smaller communities. Only the most steadfast and persuasive leaders will be capable of overcoming the barriers to their social cause.
An organization focused on supporting social entrepreneurs Ashoka collectively realizes the value and impact of positive social change. Social entrepreneurs are leading the charge to making our global society more accepting of healthy change. What change do you believe would best benefit society and how can I help?