A thoughtful, sensitive and sensible, socially aware youngster raised this question during the course of one of our conversations. It set me thinking, for I had seen all sorts of people involved in social work – those whose families got neglected, others who were able to strike a balance, still others whose relations with friends and family tottered on the brink; couples all into social work, couples with the wife adjusting all the way; youngsters studying and yet working for social change with full gusto, some caring two hoots for a career, others occupied with social causes and yet concerned about career, still others taking the plunge and then realizing career does matter.

The first question is – why work for social change at all? Is it necessary, really? This, though, is easily answered. If we find the society we live in not worth the living, there has to be social change – and there have to be people working towards it. If we find our society, its mores and practices and notions and ethics impacting the very core of our lives as individuals, often making one feel deeply dissatisfied (even if not suffocated) with things as they are, the urge to work for social change has to take birth in an individual’s heart and mind at some point of time or the other. Some might reach this “tipping point” early in life (may be at the doorstep of youth, or even earlier), others might come to that stage much later. And in some, it might lie dormant all their lives – carrying within them an uneasy consciousness about things not being as they should be, and yet not acting, not coming out into the open, reconciling themselves to situations and workplace adjustments.

How much, then, is fine?

Before coming to this question, first, the larger picture. Looked at from a macro point of view, there has to be a critical mass of people engaging themselves for social transformation to come about; a collective urge, a joint action with one objective and goal, something like a revolutionary upsurge hopefully leading up to transformation – that has taken shape repeatedly down the centuries and yet slid back in due course of time (like, say, the French and the Soviet Revolutions) or degenerated into something altogether different from what it was originally envisaged to be. A depressing thought, for it gives rise to a belief that such a change is ever-illusive – sliding out of hand like a slippery eel even when grasped or within grasp. But then there are lamp-posts of evolutionary, slow if not revolutionary change that give rise to hope – struggles and strivings that continue over decades (like, in our own land, the Narmada struggle and the struggles to gain – and sustain – rights for people, such as the RTI as also the struggle for compensation for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims) – people not letting go, may be down but surely not out, working for change even with all the odds pitted against them. Beacons of hope in the midst of utter despair, fighting the system collectively, even as they try to change it in spite of its tactics of browbeating and incessantly being unjust and insensitive. And There are, then, at a more reduced scale, stories of small struggles in nooks and corners, sometimes not visible and yet bringing about a change – of people running a collective in a village, a village working towards being self-sufficient in some ways, a group working in a specific area (like education, or health) trying to make a difference, transforming life within a small circumference in terms of region. This becomes a change that adds to the overall impact for the better – in education or health or the environment – and also brings out models worth being emulated elsewhere.

There are, then, various degrees of social change – a range of avenues and ways to choose from. Depending upon one’s urge and drive and inclination and placement in life, one could choose which direction to take, which paths to follow, which course of action to join – right from the broadest and most extensive in scope to the intensive to the limited-within-a-small area thing down to working for change at the workplace.

Wish to pursue a career? The scope would then obviously be very limited – and the satisfaction too, just as limited, perhaps. Ready to make working for social change your life? Go the whole hog, jump into the deepest waters, and swim or drown, win or lose, immerse yourself in social causes. Wish to make it a balanced proposition? Choose a career that leaves time and energy for social causes worth struggling for – may be in active engagement post job-hours or writing and creating something that contributes to the larger social good.

The least one can do, of course, is do one’s job with honesty of purpose, bring about positive change in and around the work-place (a small and yet significant drop in the ocean of social change) – going a step ahead, not bend to undue pressures, may be even take a stand on some issues, even if not going up to the very edge.

Bottom line – once gripped by the urge to see a better society around you emerge, don’t hesitate to work whatever you can for it, irrespective of scale and significance and effectiveness. Whatever possible, be done – with or without career, in or out of job, whatever the time at disposal. And let us recall what Martin Luther King Jr. said – “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or an animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” Surely, this does very neatly sum up the spirit of what working for a better society to live in involves in terms of its bare outlines, whatever its scale, extensiveness and level of intensity.

The author is an Associate Professor (Retd.) based in Rohtak (Haryana) and has been actively engaged with organisations working in the fields of literacy, education, women’s issues and for progressive values. email – 

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  1. Applauds to the observation and expression of writer. Would like to add that direction is also very crucial, some believe that society and work will guide itself.. Some are very particular in planning and homework. Some take both along…

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