A priori supposition: once basic survival is guaranteed, the next best thing one can do for someone is help them have a happy life, not fill them with material possessions.
Definition: Social Work’s main goal, as a discipline, is to increase an individual’s or group’s quality of life, and bring about social change.
If one assumes the above statements correct, then one must conclude that the wealthy in today’s super developed nations are the people who social workers should be focused on.
With so many variables contributing to it, defining “quality of life” can be somewhat tricky: with elements ranging from better health care, to better schooling and safer environments. However, once one has surpassed the challenge of finding food, shelter, and basic survival has been guaranteed, one could very confidently argue that one’s psychological well being (happiness) should be the next item addressed in the totem pole of quality of life. I am arguing that the field of Social Work today has its attention and effort wrongly placed. In today’s most developed countries, where, in general, survival of most of its inhabitants has been guaranteed, instead of trying to improve the quality of life of the poor, that is, making the poor better consumers and participants in today’s capitalist society, one should realize that the people that really need help are the very wealthy. Today’s most developed countries have higher indices of psychological problems, ranging from depression to suicide, than any other group of countries in the world; and in these rich countries the wealthy are more affected by these psychological conditions than the poor are. Yet, the field that is supposed to be tackling this problem is completely enamored with the idea of tackling poverty instead! A field that is supposed to be about social change has instead been completely high jacked and transformed into a puppet of Capitalism.
As long as Social Work keeps laboring in the duality of poverty versus wealth, it will always be working within the bounds of Capitalism, and might achieve small improvements in the quality of life of its subjects, but never will it achieve any type of social change.
If one defines happiness as a sense of love, compassion and understanding that engenders a feeling of being, and connectedness to others, that ultimately makes one’s life meaningful and full of purpose, then one must recognize that the poor are in general a much happier group of people than the very wealthy – who, alone in their very comfortable and big beds, seem to need a handful of medication to be able to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Instead, in today’s society, Happiness is confused with a feeling of achievement and material well being.
Social Work today seems to be working hard at making the poor get out of poverty and able to achieve this level of material well being (raising one's standard of living) – some level of economic wealth that could hopefully be translated into political power. However, this focus completely reinforces Capitalism’s grasp on society – the real reason a condition such as poverty still exists in such affluent and rich societies as these. Having material well being as an end goal is flawed from conception because of two other reasons: 1) The Capitalist system is designed such that there can only be a small number of wealthy people: the majority having to be poor, given that if everyone was rich, money would lose its value, and nobody would be rich anymore. And 2) Wealth, or fulfilling the “wants” that have been brainwashed into our heads after years of propaganda and marketing by the big corporations of today’s Capitalist economy, will only bring a very short termed sense of Happiness, because deep down, why do we need that really expensive car, or extra big house anyway?
Instead, one should look at the poor communities in today’s very wealthy countries, or at the culture of today’s third world countries, and see why their population, despite being poor, are arguably happier (have a much healthier psychological profile); and thus see what one could learn from them and apply in today’s more economically developed countries.
Stay in tune with the blog, for I will soon publish the part 2 of this article suggesting my view on what and how Social Work should focus on in the future, what I am calling Social Work’s “New Frontier” And the role that Design and Designers will have on this.
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