The Role of Individual in the Development Process, Part 1

Exploring the framework for a “Balanced Development” model


Ramses Rashidi

©2008 Center for Balanced Development (


So far we have talked some of the characteristics of balanced development, the role of industries and how we could strive to properly utilize our natural resources. Here, we’re going to look at the popular roles that individuals play in the development process in various systems of governance, and how their actions affect the overall picture.


Agents of Change

Human beings are the agents of change. Having been endowed with a spirit that is unique in the world of creation, we have the capacity to observe and unravel the mysteries of nature and of the entire universe. Even though we are finite and we cannot think in the absolute, we are capable of discovering, inventing and changing our environment in infinite ways. However, each solution we find is relative to our time, or until a better solution is found. As scientists, inventors and ideologists, we are always learning from our past experiences while building new theories in an effort to improve our conditions. Clearly, the individual is at the center of the process of change and development. Today, It’s the individual that bears the burden of pressure to perform and produce results. It’s the individual who is rewarded for taking risks and achieving success. It’s the individual’s innovation and ideas that have caused the technological advances of the modern era. Actually, the role of the individual is becoming increasingly difficult and ever more complex as we focus on our projects, and as we attempt to survive in the highly competitive global economy. We tend to put lots of time and energy into what we do for a living, and we allow very little time for food, exercise, rest, research outside our specialty, and spending time with our family or socialization. 


Our very human identity as social beings is under the microscope. With all the technological advances that we have made, we are facing tremendous challenges in functioning as a connected society and a global body. The chaotic trends in development are pretty much the same wherever you look. The pressure to survive and secure our future as individuals is like a game that each one must master while trying to outdo the rest of the pack. “law of jungle” and “survival of the fittest” is truly the name of the game! Being smart in making the right choices is extremely critical. A wrong move or failure to read a situation correctly could mean financial disaster and falling out of favor. “Timing” is equally critical. Functioning in this kind of tense environment has placed unprecedented pressures on the family, children, friends, communities and nations as well as global relations. Across the planet, as we become more and more entrenched in material values, there is a major crisis in terms of the breakdown in human relations. At times, it is not clear whether we understand the meaning of life in a social context. There seems to be a great emphasis on individual freedom and very little mention of “social responsibility”. Obviously, we all play roles in society, and oftentimes we are not even aware of our role. All too often, we adopt the role that helps us to “make ends meet”. Here, let’s examine some popular roles adopted by individuals to address one’s needs in the context of economic development.


The Conformist

This is probably the most common role in the modern economy and our diverse political systems. Basically, the conformist tries to fit in wherever there is an opportunity in the system. There is very little difference from one region to another. Actually, our education system is currently designed to produce conformists. All children study the exact set of 5 or 6 subjects for 12 years and then they are asked to make a choice entering college. The conformist in the capitalist system has choices as an individual. But the choice of finding one’s talent seems to get lost in the race to get ahead. The “law of the jungle” atmosphere, and the fast pace of daily life do not really give us much time to find our true self. Life is a series of fast moves to go to school, have fun, rest, and work to pay the bills. Success is measured by how much money you make. Our life in the context of family and social relations is usually a well-kept secret while we keep ourselves busy and forget about the pain of separation and family break-ups. This picture is bound to have devastating effects on the development process as the social balance falls apart.


The Conformist in a Socialist System

Here, the individual experiences a different lifestyle in the sense that there is an unwritten rule about conformity. It’s either we must conform, or suffer the consequences. In some cases, there are forced equality measures to protect the welfare of the “people” against outside exploiters. Today, very few countries practice absolute socialism. Russia was among the first major countries that adopted Socialism in the 20’s and finally changed in the early 90’s. China, after 30 years of some very hardcore socialist practices has been on a path of transformation since the 80’s. However, there are still countries in the world that try to practice extreme socialist measures. Cuba and North Korea are the two outstanding examples that come to mind. The conformist in such societies, in a best-case scenario, will serve the charismatic leader and promote the state “ideology” which, by the way, is dictated by the “great” leader. Here, almost no one has a chance to discover his or her true potential and grow. The result is economic stagnation and societal imbalance. 


The Conformist in a Religious Government System

Here, the most likely scenario is that the clergy is not familiar with the idea of managing material and human resources. They are usually much better at preaching rather than following spiritual laws. Normally, after taking power, the clergy try to get rid of all those that are considered a threat to their rule, and wipe out anybody who is seen as against the state religion. Conformity becomes a way of life. In this kind of theocratic dictatorship, the clergy impose their religious interpretations as the rule of law and control the religious masses. Here, the conformist is in a state of continuous and constant confusion. Are the standards and policies of the leadership and the clergy in line with their religious beliefs, or do they just serve their purpose? Does reason play a role in the development process or is it purely based on blind faith? In this model, there is little tolerance and respect for other religions and diverse groups. Meanwhile, the conformist is at the mercy of state leadership. Human potential is lost as individual and social rights are denied. To sum it all up, economic development ends up serving the pockets of a selected few.


Concerns Over the Role of Conformist

There are a number of political and economic systems that have their own particular dynamics.

The conformist in all these systems is basically trying to fit into the mold that’s being provided. Although there are major differences from place to place, yet this is still a truly global phenomenon.

(Please note that we are not suggesting that conformity is inherently bad. The idea is to examine our roles in order to improve our understanding and to see the possibilities.) We have focused so much on the form and nature of the development process itself that we have lost the social and human potential factor. In essence, serving the development projects is at the core of an individual’s existence. The conformist, in the process of conforming to the dominant trends in the system, loses the ability to find his or her own potential, and simultaneously fails to realize the full benefits of a harmonious society where people strive to collaborate with each other.


In the next article, we will continue to examine the role of individuals in the development process and its importance in creating a balanced development model. 


Ramses Rashidi ( is the founder and director of Center for Balanced Development.

The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and services to foster global balance in social, personal, ecological and economic development.