Seeking a Meaningful Life in Troubled Times

February 13, 2016

Seeking a Meaningful Life in Troubled Times

by R B Bhattacharjee

Forget Politicians like Najib and his cabal, dogs will stick with you when the chips are down

In recent years, growing attention is being paid to the pressures of the economic system on people’s lives, in terms of job market volatility, the growing competition for well-paying jobs, consumer debt burden, unaffordable housing, cost of retirement and a myriad of other tensions that rob them of the prospects of a meaningful life.

Many of these issues are linked to the global economy and are perpetuated by ineffective measures to address the structural causes of economic imbalances and overcome obstacles to growth.

These problems exact a heavy toll on society, including public health costs for stress-related diseases, impairment of individual well-being, interpersonal problems, domestic discord and so on.

In reaction to this modern malaise, a small but growing number of people are driven to question what it is that is wrong with capitalism’s promise of plenty that gets people enmeshed in the problems of a deeply-flawed economic model. 

Among the answers to this paradox may be that for a majority of people, the current direction of economic activity tends towards a separation between economic output and self-fulfilment. The common experience is that a job is the means for obtaining the resources needed to meet one’s desires and obligations.

The rare individual who chooses to pursue his dreams stands apart from the crowd because he is willing to step out of the familiar measurement of a successful life in favour of his own yardstick.

For the rest, the price of seeking to blend in with conventional notions of a productive life is counted in a constant effort to remain relevant at work, in business and in society.

In the current economic cycle, that effort manifests as anxious attempts to cope with business shifts, financial churn, market movements and the uncertainties that accompany these phenomena.

These uncertainties tend to encourage a search for meaning amid all the turmoil, heartbreak and hardship that has to be endured in order to maintain one’s status as a success in the eyes of society.

Naturally, a portion of these people will find at some point that the game of seeking the approval of others no longer holds much meaning and will look for new ways to define their sense of selffulfilment.

Among them, some are venturing into alternative economic activities, such as social enterprises, that aim to improve the lives of disadvantaged groups through a variety of approaches, including innovative financing models, leveraging new technologies, skill matching and linking small producers to markets.

In the UK, for example, social enterprises are outperforming their mainstream SME counterparts in nearly every area of business, including turnover growth, workforce growth, job creation, innovation, business optimism, and start-up rates, according to the State of Social Enterprise Report 2015.

It is interesting that so much entrepreneurial energy is being generated in the service of others when the conventional wisdom is that the primary driving force for the economy is that all-important profit motive that powers businesses, distributing benefits all along the way – generating jobs, revenue for governments and providing goods and services to society.

This indicates that a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs is emerging that is finding meaning in facilitating social justice, and doing so profitably.

Key to the efficacy of social entrepreneurship is an outlook that prioritises the larger good over individual gain, and the reports on these enterprises are full of inspiring stories of generosity, a culture of sharing, innovative problem-solving and positive energy.

In the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, Class of 2015, for example, the story of Kiah Williams is typical of these traits. A victim of America’s costly medical system, which robbed her family of their home, Williams co-founded a non-profit that redistributes unused medicines to patients in several parts of the US.

This trend foreshadows a mindset shift that can potentially lead to the evolution of economic systems that meet human needs in wholesome, non-exploitative ways. It ought to yield a saner economic model than the current formula that has delivered lopsided growth and is in danger of collapsing on itself despite ingenious efforts to sustain its markets.

Along with social entrepreneurship, social investing is another powerful tool for social change agents to develop income-generating activities that can improve the lives of underserved communities. Social investment has been described as the use of repayable finance to fund revenue-generating activities or to build an organisation’s capacity to fulfil its social mission.

Social investors, in partnership with social entrepreneurs, point the way to a new economic order that is inclusive, focused on those who are most in need and that is guided by a responsible form of capitalism.

However, before they can develop into a mainstream sector of the economy, many more people would need to become disenchanted with the false promise of the current economic system that feeds on an insatiable, self-destructive greed.

2 thoughts on “Seeking a Meaningful Life in Troubled Times

  1. Err.., one of the reasons why i ventured to comment on this piece is Din’s insistence on putting the cute golden retriever puppies blurb up..

    I don’t want to sound like a wet, cold blanket to the author of the above – but this idea of social entrepreneurship is neither original nor innovative. Ask the myriads of evangelical and charismatic churches who take this modus operandi very successfully, into the spiritual realm.

    Thomas Carlyle in the early-mid 19th century Industrializing Britain had addressed what human beings really needed and what was truly meaningful in these 3 simple prerequisites:
    1. A close knit community;
    2. Purposeful labour;
    3. A sense of God.

    If the might of modern industry has centralized wealth into the bulging bank accounts of the very few and powerful ‘owners’ – the vast majority will toil as lifeless, unfulfilled drones chasing the illusion of wealth and health.

    Engels and Marx agreed explicitly and implicitly with Carlyle in their utopian, but impractical thesis of Godless Communism. They forgot to include the third requirement, but instead made Man into God.

    Engels had this to say (er..not referring to Bolehland, okay?):
    ‘An idle land-owning aristocracy.. a working aristocracy submerged in Manmmonism, a gang of industrial buccaneers and pirates. A Parliament elected by bribery, a philosophy of just looking on, of doing nothing, of laissez faire, a worn out crumbling religion, a total disappearance of all human interest, a universal despair of truth and humanity, and in consequence a universal isolation of men in their own “brute individuality”; a chaotic, savage confusion of all aspects of life, a war of all against all, a general death of the spirit, a dearth of “soul”, that is of human consciousness: disproportionately strong working class, in intolerable oppression and wretchedness..”

    Adam Smith too, would have agreed that Man for all their ‘riches’ – real and apparent – ‘baubles and trifles’, can never bring us happiness on their own. Was that what this writer who was veering dangerously into ‘economic utilitarianism’, implying?

    Subjective well-being or satisfaction is seldom related to ‘Wealth of Materialism’. I shall leave that for another day.

    For those who want to understand the underpinnings of today’s Lack of Purpose, Unhappiness and General Confusion, perhaps Paul Roberts (bestselling author of ‘The End Of Oil’) new book: “The Impulse Society – what’s wrong with getting what we want?” (2014), will make an interesting read.

    For proponents of “The Blue Ocean Strategy”, which to me, is, dumbo-stirrings – perhaps Brafman and Beckstrom “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.” (2006), that focuses on decentralized businesses and organizations would be an alternative?

  2. The reality is that in the next ten years Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to take away millions of jobs all over the world and more so in Third world Countries. Governments have to begin now to retrain those in the middle level jobs- the target of AI- for other jobs that will require Human Intelligence.(HI)

    Governments have to begin now to determine where the AI curve and the HI curve will meet ten years from now to determine the policies that would be required to be implemented now. I do not know that answer but I hope that our elite leaders and experts in the civil service will put on their thinking caps to work out the details.

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