Why We Must Be Grateful To Society (Even When It Is Not Perfect)13 min read

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There is a strong temptation to be ungrateful to society due to its imperfection, but we must exercise gratitude because society lays the foundation for order (law, commerce, democracy, etc.) and whatever privileges we enjoy (including access to clean water, the internet, education, and even the “peace”).

I once saw a meme where someone was complaining that there was no power for a whole hour. And, someone replied with something like, “If you lived in the country I came from, you wouldn’t even have the battery to come online and complain”.

When I see people getting outraged about injustice, bad governance, and so on I feel their rage. But I never let myself get to the point of saying, “Burn it to the ground!”. (I don’t support anarchy)

What we need is the improvement of what exists, not the obliteration of it.

Because without the order and structure of society, chaos and suffering will prevail. 

Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement.

— Jordan Peterson (Canadian clinical psychologist)

The Prodigal Son: What Does Society Owe Me – Its Member?

Society owes/provides order and structure, which allows you to be and do what you want.

Many people complain of not being properly cared for by their families, companies, societies, countries, or the world at large. Some complain that the world trying to give criminals a second chance, or seemingly better opportunities than those who abide by the rules.

All these remind me of the grievance of the first son in the popular story of the Prodigal Son.

In summary: The second son of a certain rich man asked his father for his inheritance. Got it. Travelled to a distant country. Squandered it there. Became homeless and hungry. Started working as a servant for a pig farmer – where he ate whatever the pigs left after eating. Soon he realised how brutal life can get (and that things can get even worse). Summoned the courage and humility to go back to his father to ask for forgiveness. And, upon return, got a big welcome party.

In this story, the one person who seemed to deserve a party was the first Son who stayed back – and exercised diligence and self-control.

He was the “good” son who did all his father wanted, but seemingly nothing special was granted to him.

His dissatisfaction is understandable, just as that of anyone angry with their society is. 

But, such displeasure is misguided. And, I think it springs from the idea that the brother went away with a lot of “wealth” and blew it away.

It didn’t take the prodigal son long to realise that the real wealth was in the order and privileges of his father’s house (not gold or money).

I understand that money is great, but it is only a shadow of what is truly important

We find the father explaining the reason for his (unexpected joy) upon the return of his son. He said, “..let us celebrate with a feast because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found..”. (Luke 15:20-24)

As simple as this statement is, it holds an elusive truth.

As far as the father was concerned, the very day his son left his house he was already dead.

This is strange considering he armed him with wealth, right?

If you pay keen attention, you will realise that the enemy the prodigal son faced wasn’t a gold-eating monster, but the indifference of the world. A world without sympathy or sentiment.

Being in that world was as good as being dead, no matter how much gold he had.

That world didn’t just take the gold from him but was about collecting his life before he recalled the true value of being in his father’s house: Order and privileges.

All society owes an individual is the order it provides, all other things are privileges (which vary from society to society).

In other words, if you live in an underdeveloped country, you ought to remain grateful for society, and not envy the privileges of those in developed countries (I write this as someone living in a developing country)

The reality is, that it takes decades to make privileges commonplace, and not even everyone in developed countries enjoys the privileges, yet.

There is no need to pretend society is perfect. Utopia is something that only exists in fantasy stories for now. So, it is expected that there will be imperfections.

Nevertheless, if we learn to be grateful for what is, maybe we can start thinking of ways to create what isn’t. 

Maybe, we are the ones who owe society

Do We Owe Society Anything?

We owe society our time, effort, and in extreme cases lives, because that is what builds and keeps the society – which in return protects us from the chaos and indifference of nature, (by giving us order and structure).

A few years ago I wrote a blog post explaining how the world spins and revolves without any real concern for its inhabitants

I explained how the food chain worked, from the autotrophs to the predators.

I explained how the planet we live on is not in any remote way concerned with our well-being.

Sure, it has oxygen, an oxon layer, water, and all other essential elements to support life. But the “life” it supports is not necessarily ours, just as the havoc it wreaks isn’t necessarily targeted at us.

A few million years ago dinosaurs roamed the earth. Then one day they were wiped out, and the earth kept on going.

Before any life on it, the earth was spinning. And, it will continue to spin, even if we make it uninhabitable for “life”.

The rain, sun, and frost don’t care if a child is locked outside. Viruses, bacteria, microbes, and beasts don’t care if they are about to end the life of a poor widow. Earthquakes don’t try to keep the women and children alive. And tsunamis drown entire villages without giving any thought to it (because it does not think).

It is tempting to think the world revolves around us, or that we are special (hence deserve special treatment).

But, in the large scheme of things, what lies outside is indifferent, chaotic, and hostile. And, right outside our planet is a  dark emptiness called space.

It is not always easy to remember these facts, especially when you have air conditioners, medicines, and Uber.

It is hard to know that we are in a world that is aggressively trying to recycle us in its food chain, water cycle, and all other cycles as it flies through space.

Most people on social media try to make you believe nature is a place you escape to, neglecting the fact that not so many of us can survive past a few hours in the wild. (if you go to nature with “supplies” you are essentially bringing a part of civilization into nature; you are not “fully” experiencing what it means to be in nature).

Whenever people carelessly denigrate the order that is provided by society – their family, companies, cities, nations, or the world, the earth unleashes its wrath – cold, drought, famine, insects, diseases, etcetera – and rotting corpses start smelling.

Living in civilization is a huge gift on its own – it is real wealth.

And, it is the reason people from underdeveloped countries are always looking to go away from nature, and into a more advanced civilization. 

It is not that those countries have better oxygen or better-tasting sugar, but that they have developed to the point where most of the harshness of their environment has been kept at bay.

They didn’t do it by feeling entitled, but by literally giving their sweat and blood. It takes virtuous people to do the work. (And this is why being the elder brother who stayed back home and did the boring job is key).If you want a better society – a society with more order and privileges – you must start with gratitude for what is, and strive to give more, because you owe it.

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Why Does Society Reward Bad Behaviour?

If you have made peace with doing your humble work, but still find the idea of throwing a feast for the prodigal son annoying, then consider this: will you love to see your siblings who broke the TV get disowned, or will you prefer they change their ways and are forgiven?

What happens with amnesty, and other actions of the government is that they attempt to pardon the wrong of the offenders, and provide those opportunities so they will have something to contribute to society.

It may feel unfair, but you must realise that it is all in an attempt to keep the chaos at bay to stop them from threatening the order which you enjoy.

So, what about you?

Why won’t they provide opportunities for you?

This is an important question, and sadly, the answer is as unexciting as asking the older son to appreciate what he already has.

It may be a bit annoying.

What do I mean by appreciating what you already have?!

Why should you be grateful to society?

It is important to know that although the system is not perfect, it made provisions for anyone to work hard and succeed. The system (I’m speaking of Capitalism) is built in such a way that you will always be rewarded for your effort.

The main quandary is finding out how you can help. And, it baffles me how much people struggle with this.

Many people leave school with the idea that the “government” is to provide jobs for them.

This is a very unhelpful way to look at things.

Yes, the government ought to make the environment “enabling”, and invite investors and all that, but ultimately, it is the citizens who must think of ingenious ways to help.

The Government didn’t bootstrap PayPal, Tesla, the Boring Company, or SpaceX. Elon Musk did. This is also true for Amazon (Jeff Bezon), Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg), Dangote Group (Alinko Dangote), etcetera.

It is hardly the case that the government ever started anything for anyone. They only assist!

It is often people leveraging on the existing opportunities – the law, security, internet, etcetera – to build something that improves the lives of everyone.

I’m saying this as someone who has found opportunities in a myriad of things – including drawing art portraits, painting houses, selling bedsheets, selling courses, and selling my writing services.

I do all that without needing the President or government to permit or empower me – because the “opportunity” already exists.

If you pause and look around, you will find that there are a whole lot of opportunities around you, no matter how much you hate to hear it.

If you have a fit body and a sound mind, you have all it takes to start doing your part and getting rewarded.

Conclusion: “If Civilization Fails, Nothing Else Matters”

If you keep helping, if you keep finding work to do and receive your daily wage, it is seldom the case that you will starve.

When you ask people about the best life they think they can live, they often picture a life where they have all they can wish for. But if everyone wishes to be watered, who will do the watering?

The truth is that, for us to achieve that state of eudaimonia (i.e. a state of human flourishing and happiness), we need to water each other. We need to step up to the responsibility that comes with life. We have to stop complaining and be grateful for what is.

Yes, it is hard. It can also be unfair sometimes. But that’s just life – life is hard and fairness is a human construct.

The alternative (to helping), is foolish, and wicked

Foolish because you might end up suffering for it

And

Wicked because even if you get away with it, you will only end up making more people lose faith in doing the right things (not just sentimentally, but logically as I’ve explained extensively in this piece).

Remember, if too many people stop contributing positively to society, the chaos comes hurtling right back at us, in all its fury and indifference.

If this seems too figurative, then consider this blunt truth: The reason most politicians and wealthy people have to travel outside their country to get medical care is that someone somewhere decided to go prodigal (most times, the politicians themselves).

When someone decides to do something wrong, everyone suffers, including generations unborn.

For example, with all the oil in Nigeria, who knows, we might have been much more advanced than Dubai and London.

Our weather is much fairer, and our soils richer.

We have a rich culture, and nature blessed us with not just minerals, but a rich diversity of plants and animals.

Nigeria would have been an Eden where everyone (the rich and poor), would have found fruits to pick or pluck and pastures to lay down in peace.

But what we have today is bad roads, epileptic power supply, poor medical facilities, terrorism, crimes, and much worse…

But there is hope.

I believe things can get better!

Let us, the “first sons”, appreciate the victory in doing the unexciting but good work. And, eventually, the prodigal brothers will see the need to change…or maybe they won’t. Either way, it is better to seek to create a bit of heaven around you by doing the things that maintain peace and order! 

I hail everyone who works hard

I salute every person who goes out there and gives their best

What matters is that you go out there every day and serve your society.

What matters is that you are doing what’s right.

And even though, like infinity which can only be approached but never reached, Utopia seems too far away, we must keep striving towards it.

In the end, we flourish by contributing to society.

“If civilization fails, nothing else matters”

Elon Musk

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I enjoy writing long-form SEO content for self-help and personal development blogs. I can also do simple graphics design and copywriting. I’m an author, coach, logician, introvert, and storyteller. I love simplicity.

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