Over the Christmas-New Year period, you catch up with a lot of people. Perhaps naturally, these conversations focus a lot on how families are doing. When I mention that I spend a significant part of my week working with my environmental group and as a community bank director, there seems to be no interest. Perhaps I’m a bad marketer of myself, a bad story teller! But, as I reflect on this apparent lack of interest, it seems that people fall into two broad types: those interested mainly in themselves and their families and those interested mainly in the wellbeing of society. And the mix matters. Here’s why.
‘Me and My Family’ People
Most people seem to fall into this group. Of course most people are interested in their family, except those who are at loggerheads with other family members. They talk about their children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters and others. But often the main person they want to talk about is ‘Me’. The trials, tribulations, successes, and celebrations of themselves and their family members are what life is about. (I’ve written about this earlier under ‘Friends or Family’.) And questions to you, if any, are about you and your family members.
Some of this group will also talk about events in the world, or issues that concern them. But mostly this is just talk. It shows they are aware of what’s going on, but they have no interest in doing anything about it, even if it bothers them. ‘What can I do about it?’ they say. I’m too small to make a difference.
‘Me and Society’ People
But there’s another – much smaller – group of people for whom the wellbeing of society is actually more important than the wellbeing of themselves or their family. These people are the volunteers of the world, the people not just concerned with talking about societal problems and issues, but doing something about it.
Most of the ‘Me and My Family’ group find it hard to understand this group or be interested in these conversations. ‘Why would you bother to volunteer, join groups, donate to causes, protest, deny yourself enjoyment, when your own actions can’t really make any difference?’ they say.
Why We Need More ‘Me and Society’ People
If we all took this approach, nothing would change! It is necessary for at least some people and groups to seek changes for change to occur. And we mostly acknowledge that there are so many issues in which our society could be better. So why wouldn’t you want to help make at least one or two changes? For instance, help your school, your local community, needy people, children, the environment, support changes to laws – there are just so many aspects of our society that could be improved.
So, for this second group, an important part of ‘catchup’ conversations and their lives is having a wider view than just family, thinking about and taking action on wider issues, helping others who we don’t know. And, really, while it is great to help your family and be concerned with their welfare, the society won’t get any better unless we have lots of ‘Me and Society’ people.
‘But I’m already in this group’…
A lot of people in the first group say, ‘But I already do my bit. I work in the public sector helping people, I help students in my class, I help my aged parents, I look after my children/grandchildren.’
Which is all good… But this is really devoting all your extra energy either to your job (if you’re in the public sector, your job is to work for the society) or the specific benefit of your family. This is a very limited view of ‘doing my bit’.
I’m not trying to be righteous. But the facts are that, for the society to improve, some people have to propose change and make that change happen, either by law or by their practice. These people should be lauded by the society. And the society clearly needs more of us to be like them.