Social responsibility is essential to the maintenance of a healthy and self-respecting society. Social responsibility is the ethical and moral duty we have to the community and society at large (whether individual, corporation or organisation). All our best-intentioned efforts will come to nothing in the absence of social responsibility. Failed social responsibility will inescapably end in strife among individuals, between individuals and society, and in time, lead to sacrificing the future in order to gratify short-lived needs, writes Eugene van Niekerk.
by Eugene van Niekerk
Eugene van Niekerk obtained his BA degree at the University of South Africa, and BA (Honours) and MSc at the University of Cape Town. He read for his doctorate at Fort Hare, while a member of staff of the university. As a psychologist registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa, Eugene has been active in facilitating Continued Professional Development (CPD) workshops for psychologists in private practice. He also has extensive experience as consultant psychologist in the fields of health and wellbeing, resilience, stress management, emotional intelligence and mind-body medicine. For many years, Eugene was an associate professor at Vista University, Bloemfontein campus, subsequently incorporated into the University of the Free State.
Definition of social responsibility
Social responsibility reflects our ability to act pro-socially – to care for the welfare of others. This aspect of emotional intelligence involves behaving in accordance with our inner convictions and moral compass. It further demonstrates an “other person” sensitivity which promotes a climate in which members of an organisation, community, church, or business can accept one another and develop their potential in the interest of the collective. In sharp distinction is the anti-social type often associated with sociopaths, who flout social convention (Stein & Book, 2001).
Hughes et al (2005:70) offer another perspective. For them, social responsibility entails “recognising and assuming responsibility for the wellbeing of the larger group and for the other individuals who live and operate in it. That larger group could be a business enterprise, a church organisation, a sports league, a community, and so on. One demonstrates that he or she is a constructive and cooperative member of the social group by contributing to it in a reliable manner. Typically, one would give one’s time, effort, participation, money, and allegiance to the group and its individual members in order to help it accomplish its collective purpose in a way that benefits all its members”.
Developing social responsibility
How can social responsibility benefit both psyche and society? According to Stein and Book (2001:130), the good news about social responsibility is that because it is directed outwards, it is the easiest component of emotional intelligence to change. As attitudes and behaviour towards social responsibility change, it facilitates other skills to “fall into place”. There is an old saying that goes something like this: “if you feel empty inside you, give to others and you will feel full”. By helping others we take on a new focus, a fresh perspective that, in the fullness of time, adds meaning to life. In this respect, consider the good Samaritan, who helped others with no expectation of a reward at some future date.
A sense of community reflects social responsibility. A sense of community suggests “a feeling that members have a belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that member’s needs will be met through their commitment to be together” (McMillan & Chavis, 1986:69). When a sense of community flounders, its members are at increasing risk of experiencing a sense of self-alienation, demoralisation, and learned helplessness (Van Niekerk & Prins, 2010).
At another level, social responsibility serves to broaden and build social capital, thereby assisting individuals, families, corporations, and communities to flourish. As Hughes et al (2005) aptly point out, social responsibility “… allows groups to achieve collective goals far beyond what the individual ever could alone” (2005:72).
On 3 January 2009, Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General to the United Nations, addressed the Civil Society Forum (New York). A few passages are highlighted.