Category Archives: Society

S For Social Harmony, Social Cohesion And Specificity

Humans are inherently social. We all have the “need for love and belongingness” (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Our psychological need for a sense of belonging can create an obsession with being part of a specific community, tribe or association. A lot of people believe that bigger is the size of the group to which they belong, the more invincible they are. Also, being part of a growing community can be perceived as a sense of achievement.  Our motivation can be driven by many other reasons such as career advancement opportunities or of better social standing.

Being part of a group always require compromises and sometimes even sacrifices when the need to fit in is more important that the right to speak out and be true to our core values. Steep hierarchies in certain organisations or communities has one major inconvenience: not knowing what is going on – making them counterproductive. The high stress of deep hierarchies makes it harder to think but also riskier to dissent. Dissenters are condemned to languish further down the pecking order.

As a result, being true to oneself can become the exception rather than the rule. If you are in a constant state of stress due to the many compromises to be made as being part of a group, it taxes your whole stress response mechanisms. A human’s stress response is generally meant for ad hoc use. Making an abusive use of it can lead to depression or mood disorders. Chronic stress also hampers our ability to think and solve problems.

Rank, status and their associated symbols are constantly evolving so that seeking them can feel like being stuck on the treadmill for ever. Pursuing them can become addictive, driving people to greater and greater extremes, bigger and bigger risks. The rewards are all relative as there will always be someone who has done better, won more, achieved more. Satisfaction can remain elusive for those people with that state of mind. Status has always been, is always and will always be relative….

Dissension is necessary for any organisation or community as it fosters new ideas leading to creative solutions for existing challenges. Choosing to communicate without status and without authority reduces distance so that sharing gets easier and dissolves social barriers. Sharing, trust and the desire to connect is what makes it worthwhile to be human. Size is not what matters.

It has been proved that mutual trust, reciprocity and having shared norms make a society resilient in times of stress. Communities with higher levels of social capital tend to have lower poverty rates, fewer incidents of violent crime, and stronger democratic institutions.

Social barriers are usually inherited rather than learnt. For the growing brain of a child, the social world supplies the most important experiences influencing his or her perceptions about life. For the first six years of a child’s life, every experience is directly downloaded into the subconscious without discrimination.  Parents also have an overwhelming influence on the mental and physical attributes of the children they raise.  The fundamental behaviours, beliefs and attitudes we observe in our parents becomes part of us.

Fortunately, we can choose to perceive the environment in different ways. While we cannot readily change our DNA, we can change our minds on how we perceive our reality. The function of the mind is to create coherence between our beliefs and the reality we experience. Behavioural epigenetics has demonstrated that the character of our lives is determined not by our genes but by our responses to the environmental signals that propel life.  Changes in beliefs lead to rapid changes in gene activity. When people raise their level of optimism and deepen their social connection, they are happier and they are more successful in their studies and career. Scientific studies of longevity, medical and mental health, happiness and even wisdom point to supportive relationships as the most important determinant. The creation of loving bonds assures the mind that we are safe.

So, whether we choose to be free in how we perceive our world or observing our lives through the lens of social barriers is up to us. In other words, we have the ability to edit the data we enter into our biocomputers, just as surely as we can choose to be part of a group and be ourselves at the same time.





What Matters Most Is What We Do

Climate change affects every living soul. Given that the air we breathe as well as sunlight are all free, their use was meant for the benefit of everyone irrespective of social class, nationalities, religion and geographical location.  However, the actions of a few are now harming the health of the current living generations and the future of many generations.

In various parts of the world, economic development has mainly been accompanied by traffic congestion, noise and air pollution. Our cities have become mega cities as economic prosperity have attracted a continuous flow of new residents. The existing infrastructure such as housing, sanitation and public health services are inadequate to cater for the increase in demand.

The public resources of most developed countries have been completely stretched. There seems to be no sustainable solution unless a long-term strategy is adopted in regards to the mobility of people. Increasing mobility of people has also led to diseases being transmitted more easily. Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo is an example of how any disease can become a serious threat to its neighbours. Illegal immigration, terrorism and diseases are the modern plagues of today’s world.

When globalisation took place, not all countries were at the same stage of economic development. A few, mainly the advanced industrial countries, had well developed markets with goods to export and resources to protect their local economies in hard times such as unemployment insurance and welfare programs. Their industries grew in times when protectionist barriers were in place. In other words, the developed markets were, therefore, in a strong position to fully benefit from free trade, contrary to their counterparts in the developing world.

It is true to say that the responsibility of getting as much value as possible from its resources resides with a nation – the principles of sovereignty. However, most developing nations had nothing to sell abroad in the early decades of globalisation due to the complexity of their challenges. Most developing countries have a weak national identity making them vulnerable to civil wars, dictatorships and coups d’état. Historically, they were never prepared to be called a nation.

The African continent, for example, were essentially populated by tribes of various ethnic groups prior to colonialism. Tribes who used to live together were separated due to the emergence of man made national borders, drawn by former colonial powers. The Bambara people, for instance, are native to West Africa and have since then been now split into different countries: Southern Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Guinea.

The “new” citizens of those ex colonies had to learn to live differently from what they have been used to for decades.  Their learning curve was arduous. Unfortunately, the economic and financial assistance they received was, most of the time, inappropriate. Each country differs in its history, culture and circumstances so that it is difficult to apply the same principles of development to obtain the expected result of economic growth.

In addition, the international institutions whose role is to help those nations in difficulties had their own internal challenges. For a long time, IMF’s recommendations were, most of the time, met with scepticism as the institution did not have the required public credibility.  Governance issues and lack of transparency were also part of the challenges faced by IMF. Though IMF consists of 189 member countries, its Managing Director is appointed by the EU with the support of the US. The decision making at the IMF is meant to reflect the relative positions of its members states on the global economy. For many years, it was not the case.

It is unfortunate that little weight is given to the voices and concerns of the developing countries though their natural and human resources have been and are still essential for the economic development of the advanced industrial countries.

Our global environmental and social issues are not going to be resolved easily if there is not a serious political commitment from our part. We all hear lectures about the urgent need for a strong governance, for preserving our living space, for promoting social cohesion but a number of us are inspired by what our governments or international institutions are actually doing…..

Political commitment does drive desired changes. The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme is the result of a United Nations resolution about eradicating the trade in conflict or blood diamonds.  With continued commitment of a number of countries, trade in blood diamonds have now been reduced to a certain extent. The most important outcome of the UN resolution has been worldwide public awareness that certain economic activities are sometimes meant for funding unethical activities or are operated using illegal means such as child labour.

This UN initiative as well as others such as the FLEGT by the EU have also reinforced the belief that civil society can influence economic development. In encouraging people to make ethical and conscious choices as to their way of living, we can contribute to bring about desired changes. NGO’s and social enterprises are increasingly becoming a means for civil society to take a more proactive role. Some of them are well known success stories such as Barefoot solar engineers, Grameen Bank and Beauval Nature

Positive transformational changes have been made possible by involving the communities in decision making. It is a means to empower them to take responsibility for their future and that of future generations. According to World Bank studies, community based projects leads to a higher likelihood of success. What makes them successful is that they come out of the communities they service and address the needs of the people in those communities.

NGO’s and social enterprises – the Third World sector as they are known, have proved that values based economic activities are resilient and can thrive despite the odds.  Many of them have evolved into professionalised entities with their own board and management team. The road has not always been smooth for some of them, having to resolve governance and funding issues. Fortunately, their future seems brighter as they have learnt from their past mistakes. They may become a source of inspiration for a comprehensive approach to economic development. Time will tell

The Miracle Of The Gifted Quarter

I watched the documentary twice and every time I felt its message strongly. The Miracle Of The Gifted Quarter is a Japanese documentary on children with special needs based on the life and work experiences of a teacher working with a few of them.

Every form of life has its purpose. Every person brings new insights as to the meaning of life. Children with special needs looks at the deeper meaning of live as they go beyond their physical, mental and emotional challenges. They value what they have been given as being sacred, as beautiful gifts given to them by life itself.

In today’s society, there is a tendency to seek perfection. The myth of the perfect body, perfect clothing style, perfect life style coupled with the popularity of social media puts on additional pressure for young people as well as adults to race through life seeking continuously “perfection”. The beauty of who they are, their talents – everything is within themselves. And yet they continue on seeking something else that is elusive.

The miracle of gifted quarter is a beautiful reminder that we have been given everything to make our lives something worth remembering. Everything we seek is right there within our reach ready to serve us if only we have the courage to see ourselves in the most beautiful light. To see ourselves as “miracles of nature” whether we are considered by others to be “fat”, “weird”,”ugly”. We take strength, courage and confidence. It is sometimes a challenge to be who we truly are when we are faced with challenges that remind us that we are vulnerable, prone to make mistakes, unable to meet the expectations of our loved ones and finding it difficult to steer our lives in the direction we want. It takes courage, confidence and strength to listen to our true heart’s desires and create our own path amidst the expectation of our parents, family and friends.

It is sometimes important to step out of our own story to ask “Am I doing what makes my heart sing and allow me to live a comfortably?” Am I living the life that I truly want?” What makes this life mine – truly my own creation and not what I have been led to believe because of my past experiences. What I do, what I value and believe is this a true reflection of who I am?