Thoughts & Things

How to make the world a better place

November 14, 2020

The title can be a very enticing one and a good slogan for many. After all who won’t like the idea of improving the world one lives in.   Even the most selfish man would like to imagine a better world for at least himself and his people. It is a very human character to work towards improving one’s surroundings and it was that urge which brought us here.  The next question is how do we go about it?  What is our idea of making a better world for us and our children?   What thoughts trigger in us when we think of improving our world?  How many of us think that we all have a stake in this question? Is there any concrete way we all can contribute to make this world a better one?  

Sum of a million ordinary acts

One universal desire of all human beings is to be loved by others. The desire to be loved prompts human beings to do something for the betterment of their surroundings. When we look around, we see a world which has plenty of problems one can think of solving . We live in a highly unequal world where wealth and prosperity co-exist with poverty and hunger. We have peace and violence at the same time. We have pockets of knowledge and islands of ignorance.  So, anyone who desires to better this world can have his hands full.  However, people have different notions about contributing to the well being of others and the world. A lot of people think that only extraordinary acts can make a difference. They think that only heroes can do that and ordinary people have no role there. Some people think that one should have so much wealth and power to do anything . In other words, many of us do not see much of a role for ourselves when we think of improving the world. We feel that we are too insignificant to even consider that question.   

Let us look at this question of improving the world in another way. That is from the view of an ordinary person.   Don’t you think that at any time it is a million individual, ordinary acts which help this world to move forward?  Are we not playing our role beautifully when we all do our jobs honestly?  Imagine for a moment, the millions of ordinary workers employed across the world doing their jobs with dedication.  Many have a notion that when we are doing our job and getting paid for what we do we are not much contributing to the betterment of the world and to do that we must do charity or politics. However this is an incorrect notion. This world suffers and pays a huge prize when millions do not do their jobs with sincerity. In many countries, you don’t get anything delivered unless you pay a bribe. When everyone does their ordinary jobs with extraordinary care it can transform the world.

Another important aspect is what kind of families we are raising. How many of us consider parenting a serious job?  Eminent Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has an interesting book on creativity namely: Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. In the book, he probed the lives of a bunch of extraordinarily creative individuals from various fields. This lovely book is an intense probe into creativity written after extensive personal interviews with each of those individuals.  There was one question asked to all of them.  Looking back on all your accomplishments which one would you say you are most proud of? Eminent physicist Freeman Dyson replied.” I suppose it is just to have raised six kids and brought them up as far as one can see, all to be interesting. I think that’s what I am most proud of really.”  The same sentiment was echoed by many in the list.  This is very significant. People who were stellar performers in their chosen fields felt their role as parents superior to everything else they did. This can prompt us to ask ourselves. What kind of parents are we? Are we bringing up our kids to become mature citizens who understand the value of everything in this life?  Are we guiding them to become responsible citizens and empathetic human beings?  If we are not doing that, we are committing a grave error.   On the other hand, if we are raising good human beings at our homes , that can be our biggest contribution to this world.    

Solving a moral dilemma

Sometimes our insignificance in this world makes us feel worthless as far as any action is concerned.  Whether it is a positive action or a negative choice we feel that it does not make any difference.  When the election comes we feel our votes do not count much and why should we vote? When we choose the easy choice of polluting our surroundings or waste water or precious natural resources , we feel that it does not matter much. It does not affect us much when we pay a small bribe to get something done.  German Philosopher Immanuel Kant makes an interesting observation here. Kant’s rule for personal morality was the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative says “that when you are trying to decide on a course  of action or when you face a moral dilemma, you should consider what the impact would be and not just of your action, but what the world would be like if everyone behaved that way.” Now, this can help us solve many of our moral dilemmas and help us to make the right decision.  Man is a species cast on a small scale.  We have only a very limited lifetime.  Most of the humanity does not step out of their immediate surroundings in their lifetime.  Because of all these , we are severely handicapped in assessing the impact of our actions.  When we consider only from our perspective many of our acts may be harmless with little impact on this world. However, imagine if everyone did that and that’s the whole point of Kant’s message. One may be free to be a selfish individual but when the mass of people acts in selfish ways it ruins the society.  

The takeaway

The desire to make this world a better place is the noblest of ambitions. However, we need not try to start a global NGO or aim a  Nobel prize or become President to do that. Of course, they are all worthy goals. It is only ideal that everyone must try to push their limits and try to achieve their full potential. However, the project of improving our world can be achieved in much simpler steps also. Can we act responsibly and honestly at our homes, neighborhood, and workplaces?  Can we perform our duties with total sincerity and commitment? Can we rise above our selfish motives? Can we become a good parent, a good sibling, a responsible spouse and a valuable friend? We need to start living fully in our neighborhoods and families, sensitive to their needs and making a small difference in their lives. It is easy to make a complaint but difficult to set an example. When we become good parents, we are perhaps making the biggest contribution to this world.  When we weigh the impact of even our tiniest actions and align them with the greater common good, we are building a better future for all. It is easy to be a pessimist but harder to believe in the promise of a million ordinary acts of ordinary people. Our call is to join them and that will make all the difference. Thomas Carlyle was blunt when he said.  “ Make yourself an honest man and then you may be sure that there is one less scoundrel in the world”.  That’s it.  Focus on yourself.  Your family. Your workplace. Your neighborhood. Just improve that. Celebrate the ordinary.  Rest will follow.

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