TED Conversations

Rebecca Lynn

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What is my obligation to society and the world?

I am a person that was born in good health, to a great family, a relatively high IQ, and with financial means and connections. I have struggled my entire life with feeling that have not done my part to contribute to the solving the problems of the world. Is there a TED scholar in this community that can help me come up with a realistic goal that would allow me to feel satisfied with my contribution to the world? I would love it if someone could come up with a talk relating to this subject.

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    Sep 13 2013: Rebecca,
    It seems like you may benefit from this other conversation?

    You say you have "struggled my entire life with feeling that have not done my part to contribute to the solving the problems of the world".

    Why do you continue to struggle? You say you have a high IQ, financial means and connections. That tells me that you have the physical and emotional/mental resources to try something, explore possibilities.....just do it!

    What makes your heart sing? What brings you joy and pleasure? How can you share your talents and skills with others? I find that more good things happen from a feeling of love and joy, rather than from a feeling of obligation.
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    Sep 16 2013: Whether or not you feel satisfied with your contribution to the world is something no one else but you can work out. Frankly, it's not about how you feel, but simply living out what you decide to do instead of spending a lot of time analyzing and over-thinking the issue. If you do something and feel your efforts are wasted, you move on. That's what life is all about: work, failure, and persistence. If you expect satisfaction you're setting yourself up for the exact opposite of that. If you expect a thankless slog -- and do it anyway -- you'll have moments (even days) when you achieve some insignificant thing that matters only to you -- and you'll feel good about that. This is called real life. Billions of folks do this every day. None follows a single template. They improvise.
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      Sep 16 2013: Thank you - very, very helpful!
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    . . 100+

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    Sep 14 2013: .....
    To be my true self
    To be the best person that I can be
    To bring my best knowledge, skill and effort to help others
    To bring joy, peace and love everywhere I am
    To leave the world I touch a better place than I found it
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      Sep 19 2013: Clear answer. I agree. (As we say in Spain, "the good, if brief, is twice as good")
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    Sep 21 2013: A well person is a connected person. Knowing what is happening and contributing to your community is vital. Each person's contribution will be different, you must be true to your self and expand upon what you do best. For some, it is mentoring a child, for others, it is contributing ideas and for other it is contributing leadership skills to a non-profit. Explore your strengths and then see how those strengths can best contribute. Are you a leader? - become a trustee, are you an organizer? - create/contribute to a community event, are you compassionate? - mentor a child. The only mandate is this - the role you choose must fit your strengths.
  • Sep 20 2013: “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”- Buddha

    Until we learn to love ourselves, we are not much good to society or the world. Once we learn to love and accept ourselves as we are the impact is felt throughout society and the world becomes a better place. Rebecca Lynn, the world is a better place because you are here, believe it and make it so.

    "We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop."- Mother Teresa
  • Sep 15 2013: My highest obligation is to be who I was born to be. I could have been born in any age, and in any country, but I am where I am, and I am here now, not fifty years ago, but today! It could be chance, but I choose to believe that I am relevant to this age. I choose to believe that this moment in time requires my presence, for some reason, no matter how small. Living each day with grace and dignity, and unpacking the mystery of who I am and why I am, is the best gift I could give myself and my generation.
    • Sep 16 2013: You don't find that horridly arrogant and condescending to those with less luck? Take that to the woman who spent three decades in a basement in Austria and her teenage children who had never seen the light of day. Take it to the people who are doing the same thing RIGHT NOW who will never escape and whose tormentors will never be caught. Several people, right now, are wasting away in some psychopaths basement in almost incomprehensible unhappiness and will die in that basement. You brush off their suffering with some nebulous cosmic purpose and fancy yourself in your blissful ignorance. A large portion of humanity is in misery and you glibly and sycophantically pretend the best gift you can give them is unpacking the mystery of who you are. It's despicable.
    • Sam B

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      Sep 16 2013: You could've been born in a backwards country where you'd be sold at 6 years old into prostitution!
      You could've been born into a poor african country and die from starvation,
      You could've been born into some tribe that would cut out your body parts!

      I don't know how can someone be so selfish, just look at what you wrote, every sentence is a "I" and "my" and "myself".

      It is because people think like you that there is so much misery and poverty in a world where we produce 8 times more than we need and could guarantee a decent living for every human being with only 5% of the wealth!
  • Sep 15 2013: Very simple.

    Do your best, do not waste time, look for positive ways to apply your gifts and amplify their effect by influencing many, and enjoy life.

    One of the tricks to life is to find something you enjoy doing, that also helps other people. If you manage to do this, you will be happy while you bring happiness to others. If you are happy, your gifts will spin positive.

    Personal satisfaction is achieved from within. Realize you are human, you deserve to enjoy life like everyone else. Create opportunities for yourself to achieve this happiness, then allow yourself to be happy and have fun.

    The happier you are with yourself and your life, the more you can truly share. If you are happy, others will want to be like you, and your opinions and decisions will carry more influence as a result of their observations.

    How to find happiness, have fun, and enjoy life might take some experimenting. Try new things, learn a new skill, visit someplace you have always wanted to explore. Enrich your life's experiences. This will give you more knowledge of self and breadth to draw from when you look for 'good fits' and 'great fits' for applying your talents to your life's work. With a bit of luck and opportunity, you will find your passion! If not, keep looking.
  • Sep 15 2013: With respect, I think you have all the time in the world. To me, you’re a lucky person.
    Nonetheless I wish you all the best(really) ‘cause if a person like you really tries to do something that would be helpful this society, it would make a big change.

    I was born in a relatively poor family and I had few opportunities to study.
    Despite all these, I always have this sense of responsibility that I should be able to take care of my family and should be helpful to any society I happen to belong to. Even a slight implication that I could take from any chance, I shall regard it as an opportunity and go for it. I wouldn’t call it some sort of obligation to society and to the world—for I know that I am never a big help yet.
    But every day, however small it may be, I do my best to consume my power and knowledge. And whether I intended or not it somehow contributes to society I belong. Humble as I am, I’m satisfied with these little things and determined to move on while constantly resisting the desire to give up.
    • Sep 21 2013: Hi Elizabeth,
      Can you please share more about this: "while constantly resisting the desire to give up"...
      I tend to feel the same way and I struggle with it... so I'm interested in your insights... Do you know why this constant discouragement comes again and again... even when intellectually we believe in small achievements and efforts...
      • Sep 23 2013: It’s certainly not easy to resist.
        Especially when the sudden realization—“I’m not smart enough, not equipped enough, and not strong enough to deal with situations like this”—hits me on head, I feel like mocking myself and eventually end up thinking to myself, “This is ridiculous! I quit.”

        It took me long time to realize that there’s no particular answer.

        I just decided to think nothing, but feel positive things, basically through music or just listening to a baby’s laugh.

        Ironically, sometimes the simplest methods can be the best solution—even if it’s just a temporary cure.
        And if we just keep pushing ourselves with it—go with it, and resist the desire to “scoff oneself—while suggesting there’s always an easy way-out for a dumb like me”, that’s where you happen to stand on the half way.


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    Sep 14 2013: Listen to what you are saying Rebecca: "A life long struggle with the feeling ....you are not contributing". There is a part inside you which struggles for your attention to a certain talent of yours which you have left it latent and obscure. This is the part of you that can and will contribute to the alleviation of pain in this world. You see Rebecca, the inner "nagging" occurs for the same reasons the outer nagging occurs.... no response to the real need. You have the need to feel significant through your contribution to a meaningful action towards this direction. Therefore heeding your inner impulses and nuances can reveal to you the potency of the side which has been neglected or suppressed so far on favour of other parts more social and comfortable. Actually in order to contribute to a solution - in whatever field we start by listening/attending/responding to a real need.
    Therefore find out your passions, and then look out to what field of this world you would like to participate actively. Environmental awareness, women’s causes, children’s causes, men’s issues, animal welfare, old age, schools, NGO’s. What inspires you most and where do you feel passionate and comfortable at the same time. You can have an investigating look in health issues, poverty issues, love issues, relationships, interspecies understanding, peace building etc. One can find things that inspire the mind and the heart. It is important that we find satisfaction in whatever we are doing, since during our contribution we actually contribute to the development of our spiritual awakening. I am saying that we have to honour our little voices and senses since they usually have something valuable to communicate to us in terms of directing our actions to match our talents, potential and inner wishes to make good to the world we are living in.
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    Sep 14 2013: "I have struggled my entire life with feeling that have not done my part to contribute to the solving the problems of the world." I think the problems can only be solved if you decide to search for the truth and good in your own life. I have spent and I have seen others spend a lot of time dedicated to solidarity, volunteer work etc (which is good.. I'm not saying it isn't) but at the end of the day the problems in this world can only be solved if each one decides to solve what is lacking in their own life: forgiving others, smiling when it is difficult, working knowing you are serving others and not just your paycheck, boost others rather than cut them down, generosity, commitment, loyalty.. in a word: genuine love for others. That's what makes the difference.
  • Sep 13 2013: The world is a complex place and good intent often has unforeseen consequences.

    I recommend keeping it local and small. I am a computer programmer (C#) and I give my time to teach people to program who are in wheel chairs due to accidents. These people has lost there income and need a new career. About 25% of them go onto college and end up programming – I consider this a success.
  • Oct 12 2013: The question can only be answered by you.
    Once you have figured out your greatest strengths are, then you can figure out how to use them to benefit society. Also realize that just because your actions do not directly affect millions of people right away, that it is not affecting the global society.
    Remember there is an event called "chain reaction, butterfly effect, etc."
    Your actions or non-actions will have an effect on someone half way round the world, only thing is you won't be there to see it.
    Good Luck.
  • Oct 10 2013: your obligation to the world is too find your passion or what your good at and offer it to the world.. there is nothing wrong with a good honest life, make money and be happy as long as you remain honest.. if you happen to become successful applying your gift then find a cause to support.. this is something everyone should give there best doing!
  • Oct 9 2013: It's interesting I would have thought his question closed weeks ago but reading the comments and all the well thought offers to remedy the planet and society in general or to look inward. No one has suggested that you raise a good family.

    I think in doing so, we are ashamed to suggest that a healthy woman not do the one thing she is capable of doing, pro create. You mention all the elements for what is key to having a family. Family fills that gap in our nature when we are confronted with life's transitions. For some, having a child in a family is the only or one accomplishment they can say was their contribution to the world. A small thought but an important one. More talks on the value of human life and a strong family would be a great topic.
  • Oct 3 2013: Your answers are embedded in ; the act of serving, giving, loving, caring, passion, compassion,etc.. when you do these and knowing jesus, you will feel brand new.
  • Oct 3 2013: Please look at Amanda Palmer's ted talk, if you have not. If I am right Amanda is giving to people in need. The thing she is giving is hope that we can connect. It takes some work and vulnerability and persistence and a thick skin but she seems to be getting it done. She hit on a way to have the symbol of success, a lot of money, come to her group. That helps. I hope she keeps doing what she does. Her self choreographed job is unique. Her self choreographed job is productive. Her self choreographed job is artistry beyond ordinary.
    Yes, I hope she keeps doing it.
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    Sep 25 2013: It's evident you are from a great family, because you have retained your conscience in a prosperous environment. That will assure you of a fulfilling life. It will influence your decisions. It will make you whole. It will bring you joy. Go to Africa and feed children.
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    Sep 22 2013: Take to heart in every aspect of your being, Gandhi's words, " there is enough for every man's (and woman's) need but not for everyone's greed". Live simply and wisely and keep your consumption low. For starters....
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    Sep 22 2013: I believe that our obligation to society is to try to be the best person that we are capable of being, following whatever path is most meaningful for us, that causes no intentional harm to others. For me, this path has been teaching and education. My obligation to myself and to the young people I work with is to be the absolute best teacher I'm capable of. And this is true for any role we play - we need to aim to be the best we are capable of being at everything we choose to take our time doing. It is when we give of ourselves, and the best our selves have to offer, that we have fulfilled our obligations as human beings.
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    Sep 20 2013: Rebecca I couldn't really express myself in 2000 characters. What I'm essentially trying to say is, if you have the means and the right connections then use it to make a difference at a level that will impact the entire structure of our world. Initially when I began thinking of doing something worthwhile I wanted to open a school and give children a good education, but with time I thought that if I opened a school I might benefit only those children who come to that school. But if I can help initiate a process that would change our entire education system I could help millions of children. We need to change our entire school curriculum as well as our approach to education. You could start by speaking to people involved in such endeavors and perhaps listen to TED talks on such topics. I suggest you listen to the talks given by Ken Robinson. You don't have to be an educator to change our education system. You need to have the desire to initiate a change. If you are motivated enough we can change things in our countries and the world at large. :)
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    Sep 20 2013: Hi Rebecca, a lot of wise people have shared their valuable opinions in this conversation but I would still like to add my foolish thoughts if you don't mind.

    What I've noticed in my life and in the lives of the people around me is that we all grow up with many dreams which usually center around us being rich, beautiful, popular and happy. We spend the best part of our lives striving to make these dreams come true. Many of us do manage to make most, if not all, of our dreams come true.

    The sad part is the more we get in life the more empty we feel. There comes a point in everyone's life when we feel we need to do something meaningful in life. I'm sure we all go through this phase in life. Yet very few of us actually do something meaningful at the end of the day. I guess if we wait too long to find something worthwhile to do we'll reach a point when we would no longer want to do anything worthwhile.

    I'm going through the same phase that you are going through. From what I see in your question, you want a realistic goal that would help you feel satisfied with your contribution to the world. Well this is what I think is the best thing you could do in your country. Help change the education system. You can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, donate to charities but trust me these things won't solve the world's problems.

    The only way I see to help change our world is by giving our children the right education. If we could only teach our children to be more human and humane, this world would be a better place to live in. Just think about it for a moment. We can't change adults. But if we can teach our children important things like forming and maintaining meaningful relationships along with subjects like math and science, there would fewer wars, divorces, instances of crime and hatred.

    I'm trying to create awareness in India about the changes we need in our education system. You could do it in your country too. We need to treat the disease and not the symptoms.
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      Sep 25 2013: There are massive changes coming upon the education system. The delivery system is rapidly becoming internet video, on demand. Universal education is now possible. All we need is content. It will be show business. As teachers present the various daily lessons. Just think, the most popular grade one teacher will be rich and famous. With a million hits a day, at a penny a hit, they'd make $10,000 a day. Not bad . I'd say education is going to get a lot better as we leave the old paradigm of preparing for the past and enter the new paradigm of preparing for the obvious future, with current tools. The reason it is obvious, is that it's cheaper and it's possible. I can't say if it will be better or not but its inevitable.
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    Sep 20 2013: As long as you have not hurt anybody, you are cleared of all obligation. but I still believe we are all in one planet just to help and support each other forget about hurting.
  • Sep 19 2013: You know, if someone had asked me this question a month ago my answer would be very different. I have found that there is in fact very little we can do for the world. There are few who truly can, and those will be dedicated to it for a long time now. But that doesn't mean anything... You can try to be one in a million marching against monsanto, supporting libya (or not) or any other political and social movements. This is probably a very healthy act. But you can equally spend your effort locally. I've seen so many interesting projects with agriculture, be it planting food on the sidewalk to your home, making a food forest that will be a) self sustainable, b) a forest by function, and c) feed the locals, give impromptu concerts to the homeless, have random conversation with strangers in need, etc.!

    I saw a talk recently championing the helping of others, for this very act releases a hormone that brings about tranquility and (probably) happiness and self satisfaction. Ultimately, I am sure that with a little direction, you can find that which you seek as a form of social contribution. Just in case, here's a talks I believe you might find interesting:


    But keep your eyes open and i'm sure you will think of more pertinent and applicable ideas to where you live!
  • Sep 19 2013: Well Maybe all your contribution is being a doctor or road builder. And the only way to know if society will be better off by your contribution is by contributing and seeing what happens and learning from that
  • Sep 19 2013: Your obligation is to contribute only as much as u can
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      Sep 19 2013: I may not be reading your meaning correctly, but I completely disagree.

      Who is to say how much I can? The Government!

      I CAN contribute my life savings, car, and etc. to an often misguided society, but I if I did I would have nothing to live off tomorrow.

      We all can’t live like monks and nuns; mankind needs doctors, road builders, pharmacy companies, environmentalist, sanitary workers, and the billions of others.

      What is to say society would do more good with my contribution, than I would?
      • Sep 19 2013: The point is, mankind needs doctors and you are a doctor. But this doesn't mean you need to exclude yourself to inner hospital work only. There is always help being needed in the community, and it is your privilege to help them should you have the time and ability to help them out. Here's a funky video that I thought captured the spirit of this:

        The video is right at the top, and don't mind the title... It's a little extremist. It seems that the most obvious contribution we can make is monetary, but this in fact seems the most bland to me: money is nothing, a 50 dollar bill means nothing! It is only what we have agreed it to be. He who needs assistance would much rather have a direct solution through favours than the middle-man cash, which he must still find a suitable form of spending. I hope you catch my drift, but feel free to ask if you don't!
      • W T 100+

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        Sep 20 2013: Don, may I step in here and say something?

        Many times when someone says "do as much as you can", it means that each person does what is within their power.

        That is how I understood Jacob's comment. I thought it was insightful.

        P.S. I think Jacob replied to you a couple of entries above his original entry.
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          Sep 20 2013: Like many people in this time of sound bits, and needing to read between the lines.
          I also sometimes can find myself guilty of misreading, the intent and meaning.
          And I say too much of this thread has been about wording and phrasing, I think we all should agree contributing to society is good and be happy with that.

          I would ask if it is better to give a fish, teach fishing, teach how to cook the fish, or add the fish to a nice compost tea? ;) but really they are all good and there is enough of us to cover them all.
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    Sep 18 2013: Rebecca: In my humble opinion, your best job would be to find your best skills and improve them, thinking about the others, and also to find your not-so-best skills and try to improve it much more if possible. It's a good task, and not so esay for any of us.
    Good luck if you try to!
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    Sep 17 2013: look at what is in your hand?....!...
  • Sep 16 2013: Rebecca!! I think you´ve already done a lot, by asking you have helped me to find lots of answers to my own question! Thank you very, very much, you´d been really helpful to me.
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    Sep 16 2013: Firstly, it's commendable that this thought came to your mind. Most of the people don't really think about it much and remain occupied in their own life and improving their own life or life of their dear ones.

    Well, let's come to the point. Different people can contribute in their own different way to society and the world. It's all about taking humanity one step further and help it evolve, by having prospects that opens new ways of life. For example, A doctor can pursue some kind of research and help to completely eradicate incurable diseases like cancer or say aids;A businessman can help remove the financial inequality between the rich and he poor; A biologist may come up with some idea which increases life of human beings or help prevent disabilities due to aging; A scientist may come up with a new law/working principle which may substantiate unanswered questions related to science..so on and so forth. It's not always in the form of charity/donation.

    So find what you're good at and try solving the problems in that particular area that humanity has faced since a long time. Problem may be regional or global. solving them at any level can give you satisfaction of having done something for the world you live in. It may be at any level, may have any form or magnitude and may effect one person or a number of people simultaneously. All that matters is that you did something.
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    Sep 16 2013: Rebecca should be applauded, for most people don’t gain a drive for contributing to the common good until an event in their lives push them into it. We generally have a passive desire, but often it takes a death, disease, or disaster to turn desire into action. I applaud you Rebecca!
    Now my follow TEDsters lets help Rebecca by listing some great TED quality ways to contribute.
    I have to start with some words of wisdom from Ernesto Sirolli, that will help no matter what cause you decide on.

    If reversing climate change has your interest, then I recommend.

    How about education;

    For helping the handicap here is a great TED talk.

    Rebecca, you said you have connections.
    If they include political connections; I have idea I wish you could pass along.

    I feel that working Handicap should receive a TAX credit, here is a few reasons.
    *As a thank you for seeking Self-Reliance.
    *Give people a helping hand, without having them feel like they are on charity.
    *Help the budget by encouraging people with a handicap/disability to contribute, instead of being on disability.
    *If people can receive tax credit to help raise their kids, why not one to help people stay product when disability strikes?

    Thanks Rebecca.