Monday, December 17, 2012

Anti-Social Work

Someone once walked up to my friend and asked in an unintentional but a mildly sarcastic tone "Oh, so you do social work?". To this my friend replied quite flatly "Yes. Why? You do anti-social work?"

The expression on that guy's face was exquisite. But the point is, what really is the opposite of doing social work? Most of us don't do social work. We do complain about what is wrong with the Society, Country, Government, but we don't actually invest our time in changing it. We leave that to the politicians and the jholawalas. But from roads to religion, it is increasingly evident that what these entities do, affects us greatly. Does the middle class paradigm of minding our own business hold any more? Can you really give the best to your family and children by ignoring these vital ingredients? Because there is that important and necessary business of running the Society that we live in. Who is going to mind that if sensible people like us do not look beyond our immediate family? It is commonplace to ask 'What do you do?' and it is commonplace to answer with the task that gives you income. Along with that the question 'What do you do beyond your personal and family interests?' should become as obvious. It does not make sense to leave social work to specialists, it is really common-sense work, which everyone should be doing. I think the slight ridicule and sarcasm comes from the belief that someone who participates in society-benefiting work, must be neglecting his or her family. And that is a rather unfair assumption.

Of course it is idiotic to make this a compulsion of some kind. But a culture that recognizes and respects this kind of work, will make us a better society, than perhaps any other kind of reform.

There is also an interesting economic aspect to thinking beyond your family. I came across it when we were discussing the dismally low percentage of women in India's workforce. Both Families and Firms achieve division of labour (I take the kids to the playground, you do the laundry). But there is a crucial difference which makes Firms somewhat more useful for the Society in general. Families do not produce a surplus, Firms do. Let me explain.

Say your wife is a great cook (I am not being sexist, it is just that most men i know are pathetic cooks). Obviously she will not cook more than your family can eat.  Instead if she starts a small business, more people can enjoy her great cooking, she can feed her family and earn some surplus money too! And the economist goes, everyone is better off.. everyone is better off..



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