Note: I published a previous version of this article on FeelGooder in 2011.
In the corporate world, “social good” refers to ideas and actions that promote a greater benefit for society. To that end, companies demonstrate varying levels of social responsibility concerning the societal and environmental effects of their products and services. They also become involved with social issues through philanthropy and social awareness campaigns.
As “corporate” as this may sound, keep in mind that organizations are not just brick and mortar entities. They are human collectives comprising individuals who provide the impetus for social good. Therefore, the spirit of social good starts with individuals.
On the individual level, it is not easy to determine what motivates people to act on the behalf of others. While helping comes easy to some people, others are more comfortable watching from the sidelines. Why? Because social good is more than feeling charitable at a given moment. It is an encompassing mindset stemming from an empathetic desire to improve the human condition. However, empathy alone will not compel people to act. If empathy is not enough, what else comes into play?
Individuals with a social good mindset hold several key values and beliefs. Therefore, they are distinguished from individuals who are less likely to act by their belief systems and worldview. Whether a person chooses to play an active role in social good depends on how they see themselves relative to others in the world.
Interconnectedness is a worldview that is rooted in Buddhist philosophy. It is the belief that all things are interdependent; nothing is independent of relationships with other things.
A social good mindset reflects the belief that a problem affecting one segment of society will ultimately affect all of society. We connect with each other in the sense that each individual reflects the humanness of every other individual. This is the basis of empathy, which allows us to see ourselves in others.
We are also interdependent with the environment. Abuse of its resources, or disregard for the creatures that exist within it, triggers a domino effect that ultimately affects human life.
Assets vs. Limitations
Consider the following quote:
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” — Edward Everett Hale
People with a social good mindset do not devalue themselves by focusing on limitations. Instead, they acknowledge the value of what they can offer. Aside from financial assets, every person possesses natural strengths and talents, which are also charitable assets. People with a social good mindset believe we should do what we can with what we have, and if we can’t do a lot, then do a little.
Small Actions Matter
It doesn’t take a grand gesture to make a difference; small actions matter. Many people are deterred from acting because of the erroneous belief that their actions are too small to make a difference. However, it is important to think in terms of collective actions and understand that small actions contribute to a larger cause.
For example, if we visualize the vastness of an ocean, one act of social good can be compared to one drop of water. Though only a drop, each drop is a necessary component of the whole. Therefore, to appreciate the impact of one drop, simply imagine the outcome if there were no drops; the ocean would cease to exist.
The social good mindset is not concerned with the size of an act. In addition to the power of collective actions, we should remember that in the ocean, even a single raindrop makes a ripple.
Spheres of Influence
Whether we realize it, we influence the world daily. The social good mindset recognizes that regardless of occupation or social position, each of us is at the center of a personal sphere of influence.
We’ve undoubtedly influenced many, even if only by sharing our experiences and insights. Kind actions have a ripple effect, and we should keep in mind that our actions are often paid forward without us realizing it.
Internal Locus of Control
A strong sense of internal control is vital to the social good mindset. A person with an internal locus of control believes success or failure is within their personal control and is directly related to their skill and effort. In contrast, individuals who have an external locus of control believe their success or failure depends on outside forces, such as fate, luck, or powerful others.
In a past study, researchers compared the personality traits of Holocaust heroes (i.e., non-Jewish civilians who risked their lives to save others) to the traits of bystanders who offered no assistance. They found that those who risked their lives to save persecuted neighbors had a stronger sense of internal control than those who did not offer assistance. Also, individuals with an internal locus of control possessed a stronger sense of social responsibility.
A person with a social good mindset believes they can accomplish great things through their own efforts, and they don’t wait for someone else to save the day.
Sense of Purpose
The most important characteristic of the social good mindset is that it stems from a sense of purpose. Purpose is the primary motivation for the social good mindset. It shapes our thinking and guides our actions toward higher goals. When our purpose directs us toward social good, we become energized toward that pursuit. Therefore, we don’t look for reasons we can’t do something; we see only that we must do something.
“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” ― Angela Davis
Reference: Midlarsky, E., Jones, S. F., & Corley, R. P. (2005). Personality Correlates of Heroic Rescue During the Holocaust. Journal of Personality, 73(4), 907–934. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2005.00333.x
*Image: Dio Hasbi Saniskoro