Ask Not What You Owe Society; Ask What Society Owes You

We’re used to living in a culture that promotes the society over the individual. Despite all the talk of individualism being rampant in the West, most people live remarkably collectivist lives. They organize themselves around their families, and they accept the idea that each person owes society a debt of gratitude. 

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To some extent, this is true. People do have reasons to be grateful for the society around them. But the relationship becomes dysfunctional when it becomes too one-sided. Society does provide for the individual, but individuals also contribute to society. 

It’s a bit like a one-sided romantic relationship. If there is always one partner chasing after the other, it’s not good for the one doing the chasing, or the one being chased. Something is off. 

By and large, our civilization does a good job of rewarding people for their contributions. Workers get paid decent wages in most countries for their effort. But there is still this underlying feeling that we each owe the people around us more than they’ve given us. And that’s not right. 

A healthy approach to life is to recognise that society doesn’t just give, it also takes. Most people spend around a third to half of their lives earning money to pay taxes. This enormous expenditure is a very real cost. Taxes reduce life opportunities for the people paying them, and consign them for longer work. In other words, society actually takes a lot from productive people – generally more that it gives in return. 

It’s not just at the level of the state, though, that you need to think about what you’re owed. At a work level, you can ask yourself what your boss can do to make your life comfortable. Generally, they should pay you in line with the market rate for the type of work that you do. If they’re paying less than this, then it is an indication that there is something wrong with the culture of the firm. If you can go somewhere else, why would you stay? 

You should also ask yourself what your employer owes you in the form of compensation. Getting quality representation for personal injury matters can open your eyes to what you’re owed and how society is actually on your side in many cases. 

Talking about what society owes us as individuals is not a popular topic. And it is a politically divided subject as well. Many people believe that society owes them a lot, while others don’t think that it should provide for them at all. 

However, it’s always worth remembering that it is a two-way relationship. It’s not just about what we give, but also what we get in return. If those things don’t balance correctly, then it is hard for any of us to respect ourselves or the people around us. 

In some ways, society is actually failing us on this front. Many people struggle to find affordable housing and food prices are higher than they should be. Workers are also being paid about the same in real terms as they were twenty years ago, despite massive increases in economic productivity. 

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