A lot many people keep struggling with these ideas. And there is rarely any clear cut, black and white answers. At one level one looks at ones' immediate needs and desires and their fulfillment. Well for a lot many people once they move beyond themselves and their significant others, they start wanting to 'give back to the society'. Not just as a slogan, but really believing in it and acting upon it. Its rewarding in itself, beyond the idea of 'selfish gene'. And lot of people do that, in fact almost everyone engages in something like this, on a momentary basis or in an ongoing way, as a spontaneous action, or as a long-term choice of life.
But sometimes for some people it becomes their profession, their career and work. Further a lot of people become heavily invested in it. A lot many times such people rarely look at what is behind their actions, the motives are hidden and the driving force can be unhealthy too. Well for some only the outcome matters, but for mental health, the process itself is so important that we can not ignore it. And when one is unwise in the process, its rarely that the outcomes turn out to be a wise one. Often the outcomes are just a waste of resources, of one self and of the world both, this is my personal opinion. Harsh it may sound though. (Until and unless the zeitgeist of the moment has taken control of the person and made her/ him a means of birth of something more important for human development).
(Check this out http://www.ted.com/talks/jessica_jackley_poverty_money_and_love.html)
This is so true for the field of translation research in development works. I too know being involved in public mental health. But in current times, when researchers are measured with the cumulative weight of papers they have published... or even with the number of conferences they have attended, talks they have given... and everything associated with the business of being one researcher among thousand others, in the background of limited funds and limiting rules of funding, where is the scope for developing into a wise researcher?
Somehow for me it is often good to come down from the ramp of professional, social and even personal expectations and in an unlit corner without external gazes, ask this hard question, what is the purpose of my life and how am I living it. When I look for truth around, they are often painful, hard to swallow and ugly to accept... but accept I must for my own liberation!
In this moment of questioning self and others' actions and motives, it was heartening to hear my mentor (a child psychiatrist and paediatrician, a stalwart in himself in the area of autism research as well as preventive work with vulnerable and traumatised children) give a talk to a group of social workers involved in family visits. He works towards building healthier relationships between parents and their kids, in some of the most vulnerable groups of society, as a means to protect the child from future mental illness. He gets the parents off the hook even with respect to much acclaimed achievement. As he says, the only thing which is in our control, and we can do something about, and will take to our bed, is the quality of our relationships.
And isn't it so true, not the functional outcomes, not even the outcomes of our relationships, but the quality of relating... And somewhere that comes from the quality of our being. And it was heart warming to see him get down on his knees and play with kids while teaching parents how to be!
(Focus on parents' actions, who themselves are underprivileged, resourceless or vulnerable is not really fair in one way, but on the other hand as it is said in general about moral principles is that the more power you have over someone, the greater your duty is to use that power benevolently. And who has more power over little kids than their parents?).
And sometimes I think, this is what everyone is going to get to slowly, gradually, but certainly. Beyond the 'haves' magnanimously doing and giving something to 'have nots'. It would come down to the strengths within each person, the control that person has over the situations, and the way that person can live a fulfilling life within whatever means available, where ever available. Because, other aspects of structural changes takes long to happen and generations perish by then. Isn't it any surprise that Indian poor (or even Asian I will say with whatever research I have come across) have often displayed higher levels of resilience and well-being as compared to their counterparts in the west hypothesised repeatedly to be the outcome of their relational connections.
I also wonder often ... with so much of automation happening, high rates of unemployment and better reach of education increasingly leading to more number of people ready for a white collared job, won't it be a good idea that everyone works less number of hours, take less salary, but live a more fulfilling life, with more time for contemplation, creativity and relationships ??? And more people getting employment on their behalf ? Anyone out listening there ?
Well its not such a fancy idea after all, studies have shown Americans work more number of hours than Europeans ... and this thought itself came to me 8-9 years back from a book which has changed many people's lives, 'One straw revolution' by the Japanese agriculturist Masanobu Fukuoka. Worth many readings...