Can we ever have the social change that we need?

So last evening when I walked through Paris to get to my place. I saw a most striking sight: On the street there was a musician playing a jazz song, while a happy couple was dancing, and just beside it was a mother, sitting in the dirt, begging with a baby in her arms. Now this is an everyday sight in Paris. In fact, it is even so common that most people hardly take the luxury to turn their head anymore – even if they see a whole family with several children sleeping on the street. It very strongly reminds me of this sad movie called “Grave of the fireflies”, an anime about war/postwar Japan (see below).
But this scene also raised some disturbing questions: How can we have a social change that makes us take care of starving children or poverty-ridden countries that are far away, if we even close our eyes to poverty that is beside us?
If we are “discounting” people to that degree, or if we have such a strong emphatic distance to even our neighbours, how can we ever hope to reach the extent of social change that is necessary to alleviate poverty at the other end of the world? Do we maybe need a certain distance to other people’s troubles, sorrows or problems, in order to be able to enjoy what we have ourselves without feeling wrong about it? So, most importantly, can we ever hope of having the degree of social change that we need?

Thus, while social change is a vital aspect for achieving a sustainable development, a holistic world view, equity and justice, it is without doubt necessary to strongly supplement this with further government intervention and support.

  1. Hard to comment. We all are not Jesus Christ, but without adopting at least a minimum of his attitudes we will not change anything at all. Some of us at least care for underprivileged, partly maybe just to have a somewhat clearer conscience. Most of us rely on the government and relief organisations. But we will only know more about this family on the street (and ourselves) if we ask them why they have to stay there, next time.


  2. Pascal Seil said:

    People living in industrialized countries may tend to see their well being and wealth as inherently ‘earned’ or provided by a benevolent ‘destiny’. As long as there are no direct relationships between the different destinies of human beings (cf. life conditions of workers in developing countries), it will be difficult to change attitudes on an emotional and intellectual level.


    • I guess there could be something in what you noted. BUT – my guess is that the `social connectedness channel’ is much more important than beliefs of inherently earned. Otherwise one would prefer one’s friends’ well-being to other people’s well-being that are less well socially connected with oneself.


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