The Urgent Need for Social Reform
The deepening and unsolvable global crises—with its various manifestations of social rage and angst, raise an urgent need for changing prevalent social values—which are self-centered, egoistic, and ruthlessly competitive—to new ones that are positive; that is, to social values that promote positive connections and mutual responsibility.
The quickest and most obvious way to achieving such a shift is through the key components that shape our thought patterns today: the media and the Internet. Considering the extent to which we are influenced by the media, we could even submit that our media content must change if we are to successfully change and sustain a new, social mindset. For example, if the media were to consistently promote the view that giving, sharing, and collaborating are good, then we would think so too—and then gladly follow suit.
In today’s reality, our egos are boosted; self-entitlement is rewarded; and manipulative people are often endorsed as “Go-getters.” These tendencies in our everyday life must be countered—not reinforced—with daily, media examples of opposite, prosocial tendencies—such as deference, consideration of others, and mutual inclusion.
Considering the current content of our media, it’s no wonder that those who are not selfish and mean at school tend to be labeled as “dorks” or “weak.” It is also not surprising that with such an influx of socially negative messages, police officers are now placed in every elementary school in Texas. And, this is not to keep dangerous adults away; but rather, to keep dangerous children away, with some children arrested as young as 6 years of age—and not just one or two, but 300,000 children in 2010 alone!
Positive Media, a “Recipe” for Prosocial Reform
TV that is entertaining does not have to be violent, nor does it need to promote self-entitlement. It is quite possible to produce entertaining, high-quality television programs that contain prosocial messages. For example, investigative journalism could expose corruption on the one hand and on the other hand, show how we all depend on each other and how only together we can succeed. The media could give us examples of communities and initiatives where such concepts are implemented, for example: the town of Marinaleda (in Spain) where the unemployed are hired to build mortgage-free homes under a municipal housing program—a bold initiative in a region with 21% unemployment. (Reference The New York Times’ story, “A Job and No Mortgage for All in a Spanish Town.”)
The media could also discuss: to what extent such efforts are successful; to what extent and how such efforts improve our lives; as well as the applicability of such initiatives in different parts of the world.
The bottom line is that public discourse needs to change. And, as the public discourse changes, everyone will come to adopt the new views, thus necessitating the media to follow suit—by changing their content to lineup with the new public discourse. However, this change must begin with a conscious effort on the part of all of us—and soon, as the current trend of our media is increasingly anti-social.
Social media outlets such as Facebook and YouTube allow anyone with just a little bit of drive and gumption to promote any idea they wish—good or bad—and create enough buzz to gather a critical mass for social change. As often seen, it only takes a small, but determined, minority to make a quick, big, and decisive change. So, we see that only a small, determined minority is needed to bring about the positive, prosocial change of mutual responsibility.
Alongside the various media outlets, there is also good, old-fashioned word of mouth discussion and endorsement. Ideas spread best by simply talking about them—whether at home, work, with friends, online forums, or social networks. Simply sharing what you believe is the best approach for a better life will get people thinking.
How Your Physical and Social Well-being Depend on Others
In September of 2009, The New York Times published a story authored by Clive Thompson titled, “Are Your Friends Making You Fat?” In his story, Thompson described his visit with a 76-year-old woman living in Framingham, Massachusetts, who kept very good track of her former classmates, meeting with a half-dozen of them regularly for over 60 years and organizing a reunion with the rest every five years. What made this story fascinating was that all but one of the classmate friends remained trim as they aged, even though most of the rest of their community “succumbed to obesity.” Further, the one friend who succumbed to obesity was the only one who did not remain in close, regular contact with his classmates.
A few years later, two professors—Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler—used the information that was collected (along with that of several thousand neighbors) to come to new and astonishing discoveries about how we affect one another on all levels—physical, emotional, and mental—and how ideas can be as contagious as viruses.
In their celebrated book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives—How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do, Christakis and Fowler established that a network of interrelations existed among the more than 5,000 participants. They discovered that in this network, everyone affected each other, with this affect extending to physical well-being as well as social issues.
As part of his article (“Are Your Friends Making You Fat?”), Thompson wrote:
“By analyzing the Framingham data, Christakis and Fowler say they have for the first time found some solid basis for a potentially powerful theory in epidemiology: that good behaviors—like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy—pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. The Framingham participants, the data suggested, influenced one another’s health just by socializing. And the same was true of bad behaviors—clusters of friends appeared to ‘infect’ each other with obesity, unhappiness, and smoking. Staying healthy isn’t just a matter of your genes and your diet, it seems. Good health is also a product, in part, of your sheer proximity to other healthy people.”
Even more surprising, Thompson gave further evidence for social contagion by noting Christakis and Fowler’s additional finding that “obesity seemed to jump from friend to friend even over great distances,” that people can affect each other even if they do not know each other! Moreover, Thompson noted that they found evidence of these effects occurring as much as three degrees apart; that is, social contagion from a friend of a friend of a friend.
What Our Society Needs Most Is to Be More Positively Connected
But there is more to social contagion than watching one’s weight or any other health condition. In a televised lecture, Professor Christakis explained that our social lives—and as we see from above, much of our physical lives—depend on the quality and strength of our social networks, as well as what runs through the veins of that network. In his words:
“We form social networks because the benefits of a connected life outweigh the costs. If I were always violent toward you…or made you sad…you would cut the ties to me and the network would disintegrate. So the spread of good and valuable things is required to sustain and nourish social networks. Similarly, social networks are required for the spread of good and valuable things like love, and kindness, and happiness, and altruism, and ideas….I think social networks are fundamentally related to goodness, and what I think the world needs now is more connections.”
In short, the secret of a great society lies in mutual guarantee. And, the best way to achieve this is through supportive media and supportive friends.
Written by Michael Laitman
Michael Laitman is a global thinker dedicated to generating a transformational shift in society through a new global education, which he views as the key to solving the most pressing issues of our time. He is the Founder of the ARI Institute, Professor of Ontology & Theory of Knowledge, PhD in Philosophy, MS in Medical Cybernetics. You can find him on Google+, YouTube and Twitter