Is Life about ‘Me and My Family’…or ‘Me and Society’?

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 bitI 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.

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3 thoughts on “Is Life about ‘Me and My Family’…or ‘Me and Society’?

  1. Thanks Graham. Family is vitally important to our personal well being and sense of contribution at that intimate level but I think that is at least in part because of the way our culture separates us. I am happy to say we humans are all brothers and sisters and that we share the miracle of planet Earth with our non human brothers and sisters. My view has long been that I am blessed but that I should strive to give back especially as the vision of the future for humanity is black as I see it. Universal utopian images are the only ones that keep me charged. I can’t say that I’m right and I don’t have a transcendental faith to fall back on. Can only say what makes sense to me and I’m with you.

    Good cheer

    Bruce

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  2. I was talking with a friend who is involved in helping African students get educational scholarships, both in Africa and often in the US. We were discussing the apparent different attitudes of the very poor in Africa and the middle class. We thought that the middle classes were more focused on family, whereas the poorer Africans had a more community vision, and were often prepared to invest in their community. Perhaps because in the poorer communities, the families can be very broken, so they depend on each other to survive.

    Slightly different topic, but does property and success lead to a more inward focus?

    Best

    Robert

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  3. Interesting perspective Robert. Anecdotally, it jells with some of my experiences, but I don’t know what sociologists or social workers would say about this. As you have more, you have more to lose, personally. Insurance is more important for richer people. So it would be consistent for middle class (and rich) families to be more family-focussed than poorer people and for poorer people to be clearer about what really doesn’t work in a society…while the rich (a la Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and others) have the means to fix those ills.

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