It was stated earlier that well-being is a state of having the abilities, or being able to acquire the abilities, needed to cope with one’s environment and that well-being is also a state of functioning fully or being able to move toward a state of functioning fully. Well-being is a matter of having–or having found–a certain kind of niche within one’s environment. Ideally it is a niche and a way of life in which one is secure and which enables one to form satisfactory relationships with other individuals and groups. The relationships are satisfactory to the extent that they promote maximal contributions of each to the well-being of all.
The lives of many are far from ideal. The ideal needs to be upheld as a standard of excellence, but the best that is attainable needs to absorb our energies. For many, well-being will consist of not being ignored. Indeed, much attention needs to be given to determining what is the best attainable without ignoring anyone. What is each person and each group able to do, and what can they not do? How can their abilities be combined?
Ecological, Economic and Societal Niches and their Interdependencies
Viewed from the perspective of the present day, many species seem to occupy quite stable niches, ones that have not changed appreciably for hundreds of thousands or millions of years. The niches of other species seem to be undergoing transition. Local conditions may be creating a new variety within the species, one that occupies a new niche. Each niche, we may say, is defined pragmatically by what works. The evolution of species is a coevolution. It is an evolution in which species and varieties are but place-holders in an evolution of ecological niches, repertoires of behavior. Due to technological developments, depletions of resources, growths of populations and migrations, the niches of human economic and functional groups are changing their boundaries, and new niches are being created. Finding new “product lines” of goods and services to meet new market conditions has become a perennial problem for individuals, for business firms, for agencies, and for occupational groups. Our analysis indicates that viable niches can be delineated by determining what abilities are needed and what abilities are not needed, by determining what works and what does not work. New attitudes, new habits, and new services are needed to bring about the creating, collecting and analyzing of this information.
In order to delineate what constitute viable niches in particular cases it is necessary to look at certain interdependencies. To delineate a viable niche for a particular biological species in a particular locale, it is necessary to look at biological and ecological interdependencies. For particular persons and particular groups of people it is necessary to look at ecological, social and personal interdependencies.
On the ecological level, human interdependence with other species involves human beings’ choice of food, use of fertilizers and pesticides, control of the production of toxic materials, the design and operation of water supply systems, soil conservation, the disposition of waste products, and the protection of wildlife habitats and scenic areas. Humankind needs to move toward contributing maximally to the well-being of other species to enable other species to contribute maximally to human well-being.
On the social level, interdependencies among human individuals and groups can be analyzed by describing each person’s and each group’s economic function and social relationships. The economic function can be described in terms of the goods and services produced. Each person and group needs repeatedly to design and market the set of goods and services that they are best qualified to produce and that best contributes to the well-being of others. These continual adaptations need to be accomplished by a trial and error process in which both good choices and errors are revealed by determining the effects one’s products tend to have on the actions of others. The design and redesign of goods and services needs to be guided by assessments of the effectiveness of these goods and services in promoting the well-directed acquisition and use of abilities by other individuals and groups. In trying to determine the effects one’s products and actions have on others, one would want to answer questions such as the following:
1) Do my/our goods and services enable others to acquire abilities? If so, what abilities?
2) Do my/our goods and services enable others to use certain of their abilities? If so, which abilities?
3) Do my/our goods and services or do I/we influence others to acquire and use abilities? If so, what abilities?
4) In what ways do my/our goods and services promote the doing of good? In what ways the doing of harm?
5) What evidence do I/we have for my/our answers?
This kind of analysis and planning needs to be conducted by all economic groups. This includes governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, business firms and organizational units within agencies and business firms. Also included are occupational groups and regional councils. The needed planning and analysis will entail the development of new procedures within existing organizations and will create a demand for businesses and agencies to collect, analyze and disseminate the kinds of information involved.
A similar approach is appropriate for understanding and redefining social responsibilities. Current understandings of social responsibilities need first to be explicated. The five questions presented in the preceding paragraph could be asked by individuals and groups concerning their social behavior–their social goods and services. In light of the answers obtained a course of redefining these responsibilities could be undertaken, aimed again at fostering maximal contributions from each for the well-being of all.
On the personal level, both individuals and groups need to relate to other individuals and groups as persons. Personhood means acting on the basis of the knowledge one has gained in the course of acquiring and exercising abilities, forming and testing hypotheses, seeking an understanding of principles with others, and becoming an intelligent and morally responsible agent. Personhood also involves an openness toward friendship and a willingness and ability to maintain friendly relationships.
Friendships and other personal relationships have a special function of fostering and making visible humankind’s common life of intellect, emotion, spirituality, and moral consciousness.