We each need to see ourselves as one among many. The earth’s human population has now reached 7 billion. We are grouped into families, communities and nations each pursuing what it sees as its self-interest. We need to form cultures that hold visions of what people can accomplish by acting in concert with one another. We need to be mindful of our interrelatedness and form constructive relationships for our mutual benefit.
This is not a call for selflessness or self-sacrifice. It is a call for clear-eyed rationality. It is a call to be guided by a vision and a widening experience of what can be achieved through cooperation and through gaining a better understanding of ourselves and of each other. It is a call for individuals, families, organizations, and peoples to maintain cooperative efforts to contribute as best they can to one another’s well-being. Thus individuals are being called to act as individuals and also as members of their families and as members of various organizations and groups to discuss and plan with other family members and their fellow members of the various organizations and groups to work to advance the well-being of those they are able to aid. Families, organizations and groups are being called to orient their efforts to serve the well-being of others. The transition from being mostly self-serving to being mostly beneficial to others will take time and will appeal to a small but hopefully growing number of persons, families and larger groups. A major challenge will be to change the operation of market economies to make them more oriented to people’s well-being, causing consumers to be more desirous of living better lives and better informed about how to do so.
Serving the well-being of people collectively can be thought of as aiding or advancing human development, as will be discussed in detail.
Serving the well-being of people individually can be thought of as enabling, helping and encouraging them to live full, productive, and purposeful lives. Living such a life is what we need to seek for ourselves.
Living a full, productive and purposeful life is here taken to mean:
- Full in that one’s abilities — physical, intellectual, and inter-relational — are fully expanded and put to use and one realizes his or her full potential
- Productive in that one’s abilities are aimed at creating their fullest impact and are diverted from unproductive, dissipative or destructive uses
- Purposeful in that one’s life is guided by well thought-out and deliberated goals and strategies
This goal is being proposed as a goal to be sought by and for individuals, families, communities, organizations and nations. Individually and collectively we can work to live full, productive and purposeful lives ourselves. At the same time we can dedicate our lives to enabling, helping and encouraging individuals, families, communities, organizations and nations to join with us in living such full and purposefully dedicated lives. Each of us has a potential for doing good. We can help each other fulfill this potential.
The book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett compares 23 relatively affluent countries and the 50 states of the United States with each other. It shows trends among the 23 countries and among the 50 states on statistics such as life expectancy, health and social problems, frequency of teenage pregnancies, infant mortality, crime rates, obesity, and drug abuse. There are clear trends for these problems to be greater where there are great disparities of income. The problems are not correlated to per-capita level of income. Countries or states with the highest income inequalities are the most dysfunctional. However, policies to reduce income inequalities by imposing highly progressive taxes do not seem to work. A much more comprehensive approach to building more fulfilling lives for ourselves, closer friendships, more welcoming communities and more public-spirited national policies seems to be needed.
Some of the countries with great disparities in income, such as the United States, despite occasional pleas to address inequalities are doing very little to increase the earning power of the very poor. Those who are benefitting from their social advantages tend not to be in the forefront for changing tax structures, improving public schools, or ensuring employment opportunities for the less fortunate.
In 2007 the book, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, by Paul Collier attacked the common misperception of the world’s population as consisting of 1 billion people in “advanced countries” with the remainder living in “developing countries”. Collier claimed that the countries containing the bottom billion are not developing but rather are mired in civil wars, internal conflicts, corruption, and tyranny. These problems are immense but the solution seems to lie in internal efforts to meet the needs of civilian populations and build cooperative relationships.
Throughout human history and particularly since about 1950 outbreaks of violence have tended to center on religious differences. The Middle Eastern conflict between Jews and Muslims — Palestrinians, especially — started before the creation of Israel in 1948 shows little hope of abating. Religion was a significant factor in
- Ethnic cleansings in Rwanda and Bosnia
- Widespread suicide- and car-bombings since then
- Public hostility toward Muslim immigrants in Europe and the U.S.
- The armed conflict between Sudan and South Sudan
- The approaching civil war in Syria
There is a great need to better understand religious beliefs and loyalties, to overcome religious differences, and to find ways to resolve conflicts.
Income inequalities and religious conflicts are just two of the areas in which trying to do the most goods can make our lives more fulfilling. We can gain a sense of becoming part of humankind’s struggle to overcome hatred, injustices, and ignorance and see the possibilities for a brighter future.
The terms “human well-being” and “human development” are here taken to mean the well-being and the development of individuals and also the well-being and development of human beings generically, as groups, organizations, communities, etc. and of humankind as a whole. The advancement of human well-being and the advancement of human development can be brought about by human effort with the guidance of well thought-out ideas and the building up of mutual trust.
Advancing human well-being is an inherently appealing goal, one that should motivate all rational and psychologically healthy people, although many of us have become cynical or disillusioned about the possibility of success. One of the aims of this website is to help people overcome this disillusionment and provide reasons for hope and confidence.
There are of course many different ideas about what constitutes human well-being just as there are many different philosophical notions about what constitutes a good life. There is no attempt here to set forth a doctrine about the nature of human well-being. Rather we are proposing to “let all the flowers bloom,” that is, to allow different cultures and groups pursue their own values but to also work to promote peace and mutual understanding.
Regarding human development there are two observations to be made that are of fundamental importance. First, we as individuals and also we as groups, communities, and organizations of all kinds need to remain aware and mindful of the fact that we are changing day by day, month by month, and year by year as the result of our own actions and our own conscious and unconscious processing of information. Our beliefs, our likes and dislikes, our patterns of behavior may become more deeply ingrained or may shift radically. Our competencies and our abilities to take responsibility for our actions may increase or decrease. What becomes of us depends on what we do to give direction to our lives.
Second, we need to take responsibility for our own development. Others can support and help us. We can benefit greatly from being part of a mutually supportive and mutually concerned network of friends and coworkers. But the first responsibility is with us. We must be captains of our own ships.
Accordingly, human development can be advanced by a conscious and deliberate effort in which each group, organization or community is mindful of and takes responsibility for his/her/its own development. All individuals and all groups are “social” and exist in a social environment which can be supportive and concerned.
As explained more fully in later sections the desire to “do good” can be strengthened by being:
- Attracted to the appeal of advancing human well-being and human development
- Motivated by a desire for achieving worthwhile goals rather than a desire for self-glorification or personal gain
- Inspired by the willingness of many to demonstrate respect, empathy, concern and readiness to provide for others’ needs
- Affirmed by enduring personal relationships
- Involved in forming constructive relationships at various levels of society
- Made more aware of our cultural and spiritual legacies
The next section will deal with Human Development and Doing Good.