We live in a society, or so they say. And as members of society–a community of interdependent people–we should probably strive to contribute positively. Society (and community) can provide tremendous value when it works.
It’s easy to contribute negatively, or rather, to detract. Simple examples of detracting from society might be:
- excessive consumption
- excessive pollution
- causing harm to others
- not contributing back
Society is more than the sum of its parts, but measuring its value is difficult. What constitutes society is difficult to define, and the value of community is not something we can easily assign a number to, particularly in an economic system that doesn’t account for happiness.
When a neighbour helps you out without expecting anything in return, we can’t necessarily measure the value of their help in terms of gross domestic product. If your neighbour saved you from having to hire someone to solve a problem, then the net effect on GDP would be neutral as no financial transaction occurred (which means there’s no value to measure). Even a child could tell you that having a good neighbour is a positive thing in your life, however, our economic models place no value on being a good neighbour.
Getting back to the topic of this post: it’s not difficult to contribute positively to society, and I generally try to live my life in such a way that I’m (at the very least) not detracting. Christianity1 (and other religions) provide some good ideas on how to contribute positively, as with avoiding the seven deadly sins which are detractors:
- Laziness (sloth)
Most of these are bad, although one stands out from the rest: lust is hardly sinful and mostly harmless (provided there’s no abuse involved). Love and lust are natural healthy parts of the human experience and one of the few things you can do without having to spend money or get permission from any third parties or government agencies (at least in places where you’re free to love who you please). Christianity has a long history of shaming people for celebrating their bodies and loving who they want, so we can ignore this one sin and focus on the others.
If I had to pick one sin as the most sinful of sins, I would choose greed. I think the majority of modern societal problems today can be traced back to greed. Everyone’s trying to screw everyone else (and I don’t mean in a good way) to get rich quickly, and it generally makes everything worse for everyone (the enshittification of everything).
We should also discuss the so-called “Golden Rule”, which is best described as not treating others in ways you don’t wish to be treated. To put it in more contemporary parlance: don’t be an asshole. This is the easiest way to contribute positively to society, but it’s something many people struggle with at various points in their lives.
The idea of contributing positively to society is hardly new, as noted, but it’s good to occasionally take a moment to think about whether you are contributing positively. And instead of applying a lot of pressure on yourself to make net positive contributions, it may be easier to reduce the amount of net negative contribution.
Life is a series of choices we make every day, with some decisions bigger than others, and most of the time our options are imperfect. No matter how insignificant the choice, we can at least choose to be a little less negative. Help your neighbour if you can, don’t litter, and find something to work on that doesn’t make the world a worse place.
For the record, I’m strictly atheist and not generally a fan of organized religion. ↩︎