Difference between Good Work and Revolutionary Good Work

A demonstrator holds a sign during an Extinction Rebellion action in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo: julian meehan/flickr/cc)

Tens of millions of people are engaged every day in helping others and contributing to family, community and society in various ways. They are the ones who keep alive the faith in human relationships, it is their work that lightens the world, provides not just relief but also cheerfulness and hope, despite many increasing problems.

Despite the evident great value of all this good work, however, in most cases this does not go beyond its limited aim of helping someone or even several people. More particularly, this does not necessarily help to remove or reduce the wider dimensions of the world’s problems or to remove their causes.

This happens because while the good work is taken up because of the human concerns of reducing the difficulties and problems of others, this is not informed of and hence not motivated by search of possible solutions of these difficulties and problems in a wider social context, including removing and reducing the causes of these problems. Hence this good work makes its very welcome limited contribution, but does not go beyond this in creating a better society. Even though it may inspire some other such efforts around them, it generally does not create many more linkages for making a wider and deeper contribution.

On the other hand, if this good work is much better informed of the wider dimension of the problem as well its deeper causes, and if it is motivated by a deeper urge to take this forward and link it to wider and longer-term solutions in society, then this can make a much more important and durable contribution. If the person who takes up this initiative is also more aware of others who can help to carry the initiative further and tries to link up with them, and if this person is conscious of tackling not just the problem but also its causes, and if this person is motivated by an urge to keep learning in the process so as to be able to make a wider and longer-term contribution, being conscious of the need of wider and longer-term changes in society involving linkages with other work, then the good work taken up by this person does not just remain isolated good work, it becomes a part of revolutionary good work capable of bringing much deeper and wider change, much needed change, in society.

We may take the example of a society in which an abnormally high number of cases of mental health problems are being reported among adolescents. A number of persons come forward to offer help, link the adolescents with these problems to counselors and doctors who in turn provide good treatment and care. All this work is of great value in reducing distress. However in this framework continuing efforts are not made to find the deeper causes due to which mental health problems have increased rapidly among adolescents and to remove the causes of this to the extent possible. As a result even as treatment and counseling are being arranged for some, possibly even more new cases of similar problems emerge. Given that social conditions which are at the bottom of these problems remain, it is possible that even those who have received treatment relapse into more or similar problems after a time gap.

On the other hand imagine a different situation in which continuing efforts are also made to understand why such problems are increasing and on the basis of a proper understanding being reached efforts are also made to remove or reduce the factors which give rise to such problems. As a part of this, those who have faced such problems are also encouraged or guided to pursue several highly relevant pursuits in which their creative energies are so well and happily engaged that they become genuinely healthy and happy, leaving behind their depressing past. There is no hesitation to recognize the deeper malaise in society, then devote oneself to try to remove this deeper cause of the problem (in itself a very creative even though difficult task), then use this understanding to find and implement solutions at local levels, at the same time striving to achieve integration with those who can take this understanding and solutions at a much wider level in society. It is this kind of work which is revolutionary good work, or work of revolutionary potential.

Or take another example of efforts being made for raising the unjustly low wages of a group of workers. If this sincere effort results in raising wages, but remains limited just to this, then this is certainly good work which increases welfare of the poor. On the other hand if in the process efforts are also made to raise consciousness regarding how exploitation is inherently wrong and must be resisted at all levels, and if attempts are made to link this effort and success with wider efforts of resisting low wages and other injustice, then this can become revolutionary good work. At the same time efforts are made to understand exploitation in wider context and so important but neglected issues of occupational health are also brought into focus. Clearly work taken with such deeper and wider understanding will help to reduce distress and exploitation much more in the longer-term.

A key to advancing revolutionary work is to have a wider understanding of the changes that are needed in society at a basic level, changes based on justice, equality, environment protection, compassion for other forms of life, peace, true democracy and decentralization. While such understanding is an essential condition for taking up work of revolutionary potential, it is also helpful to have good linkages with several groups involved in such basic changes at various levels.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and A Day in 2071.


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