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Measure of an Advanced Society

Updated on November 5, 2012

Oftentimes the degree to which a society is qualified as advanced or sophisticated is cast in broad economic, social or political terms.

Social scientists and activists generally focus on such crucial indicators like GDP, income, life expectancy, hunger/poverty eradication and disease control. Others identify free and fair elections or the efficacy of political systems, the prevalence of strong judicial institutions, freedom of the press, environmental responsibility/accountability (energy production/efficiency, deforestation, biodiversity, pollution, urbanization, emissions control, and congestion) and educational effectiveness.

But occasionally in the course of everyday living, something happens that in the most immediate and personal way forces a not-so-distant and not-so-intellectual appreciation for the finer points of distinction.

I was out jogging today with my wife; something we have done more than a dozen times before and which ordinarily is as inconsequential an event as brushing one's teeth upon sunrise. Being a typical July day---hot, humid and hazy---we set out at about 8:30 hoping to conclude our run before it got a bit too oppressive.

After struggling through it for approximately 2.5 miles, we stopped to catch our breaths at a major traffic intersection in the heart of town. We both sought temporary shelter from the piercing sun underneath the shadow of a utility pole. Almost immediately, I caught myself feeling quite light-headed. First, I attempted to fight it off. Sensing that I really could not, I tried to tell my wife that I needed to sit down but was unsuccessful forming the words.

That was when it happened—I fainted! I literally hit the ground like a log. When I came through, I was on my back and my wife was crying by my side and repeatedly inquiring if I was okay. She motioned for assistance from a medic who happened to be at the intersection at that particular moment and ran off to a nearby Starbucks shop for some ice cold water. In a little less than three minutes, an EMS squad was on hand providing critical, life-saving care.

Ordinarily, emergency-ambulatory services are really nothing to write home about. They are so pedestrian and hackneyed that few hardly ever think of what it might mean to be without them.

Nonetheless, knowing that half way around the globe, these “luxuries” are practically unavailable to possibly 75% of humanity compelled me to, at least on this particular day, in a most pensive and introspective way, take notice.

I then found myself thinking of a few other innocuous, unobtrusive ways in which I am privileged to live in one of many modern, advanced societies.

One is the society’s striving to protect and empower the physically-challenged and most vulnerable---Americans with debilitating disabilities. It is indeed gratifying to know that unlike many places on earth where individuals exhibiting a range of physical and mental limitations are largely socially invisible and often indignantly left to wither away in their state of helplessness, there are statutory protections and programmatic initiatives that, in most dignifying ways, offer opportunities for these individuals to realize their life’s potential.

Then there is the reward and respect for talent. Not only is it infinitely redemptive to behold and celebrate the fact that only in our type of society is it possible to witness such phenomena like Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, or Kobe Bryant, it is equally edifying to know that even the most-underprivileged among us, could if they truly exerted themselves academically, end up in Harvard or one of several other pricey, prestigious institutions of higher learning for free!

Yet another personally intriguing mark of a great society lies in the mediation of competition. Things simply don’t seem as zero-some as they generally are in many parts of the world.

Be it competitive sports or even politics, I am always amazed that intrinsic to most situations where individuals are vying for some coveted prize, office or trophy, there is a shared, often unspoken, understanding of the importance of good sportsmanship; the respect for the rules of engagement and the need for an honorable conclusion. Graciousness, both in victory and defeat, is roundly extolled.

So, be it Gore in the 2000 presidential elections or the Celtics in the 2010 NBA championship games, even when some dreadful injustices appear to have undeniably been committed, people expect a quick decorous acknowledgment of the end of the race and an immediate exchange of pleasantries (conciliatory/congratulatory messages) by both the victor and the vanquished.

In conclusion, there is no denying that as a society, we have some damning, over-sized challenges. But at the same time, it is vital not to be blind to a few things about the society we have become which, though not glitzy or highfalutin, still make us distinguished and quite envied.

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      Howard Schneider 

      8 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Hi Arum. I totally agree with you that there is a lot of good to be said for this country. One forgets that because of all the acrimony in the news and talk shows. We are still a society where the vast majority of the people try to do the right thing. Also our economy and government are set up to assist both the society at large as well as the weakest of us. Many strict capitalists call this socialism and seem to want Social Darwinism to exist. Luckily this view always fails. Our country is a remarkable one. It still needs a lot of work but that's always true and it's what we should always strive for. I trust you recovered quickly from your medical situation. It sounded like a bit of heat exhaustion.

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