There is a tension between individual and structural analysis of society, with the first being seen as more simple and amateurish, and the latter more political and professional; a political scientist would look for the broader structures while a psychologist and social worker would look for issues at individual, family and small-group levels. It is obvious that both levels of analysis are needed if we want to understand all aspects of a society.

In my articles, I usually focus on the broader structures and less on the individual levels; at best one would use anecdotes and examples to illustrate issues. Today, I shall give prominence to the individual levels.

We human beings organize our lives and societies differently; at the same time, many aspects are common to any society at any time and any place: the right to a good and secure life is basic. In our time, when ‘war on terror’ has become an everyday concept, security aspects related to direct, sudden and unpredictable violence are highlighted dimensions.

It is essential that every person and group feel safe and valued, with rights and duties to receive and contribute, with regulations and laws that apply to all. In any society, fairness and lack of large differences between individuals and groups are more than ideals; they are intrinsic values to human thinking. In our time, we emphasize gender equality, and we want all social, cultural and religious dimensions to be without discrimination to individuals and groups.

In spite of our good intentions and ideals, there are many inequalities and interest conflicts in the world, locally and internationally. There are deep differences between rich and poor individuals, groups and countries, indeed between the North and South, the industrialized and developing countries. There are disparities in fulfillment of basic human needs and rights in all countries, and more so in the developing countries, and there is still lack of basic democracy in many countries. Rule can be unfair, and people do not have equal access to shelter, food, health and livelihoods; education is not yet universally available to all children and youth.

Behind the broader generalizations there are individuals, families and small communities. When we consider people’s everyday lives, we should not only be academic, but also use common sense. We should use other, simpler dimensions than what we usually do when we consider and judge how good societies are; it is not given that the wealthy societies and countries are the best and most humane to live in.

As a Westerner myself, I am impressed by the kindness that I see every day in a developing country like Pakistan – and earlier when I worked in East Africa – and I am saddened by the technocratic societies in the West. One could have expected poor people to resent wealthier people and show more aggression towards them and towards each other. Yet, I believe that poor people show as much kindness as wealthy people, probably more. Kindness in everyday situations is not based on creed or cradle, religion, colour, ethnicity or any other such characteristics. It is randomly distributed throughout humanity and the world. This makes us pause and reflect, and it should indeed make us optimistic; human beings have an inbuilt ability to do what is right. Yes, I say this in a time and age when we all, and the media and politicians, especially in the West, focus on issues related to terrorism and more, as I mentioned above. We constantly repeat negative aspects rather than all the positive things that are also in abundance right in front of us. I believe we will realize more of this if we look less at structures and more at individuals.

Some years ago, I worked with a Norwegian psychologist who came to Pakistan to help evaluate a large refugee education project. She focused on the individual child and teacher, the class rather than the whole school, and so on. Furthermore, and outside her assignment, she told me about her daughter who had married – and divorced – a Muslim. I think he was from Egypt. It was obvious that the mother-in-law had come to like her daughter’s husband, and she found him as kind as her own daughter. As a matter of fact, in spite of many cultural differences, I think she thought he in many ways was a better person than her daughter. I found it generous of the mother-in-law to have seen this and to tell me about it. Later, I have several times reflected on the Western psychologist’s objective ‘evaluation’ of her daughter and husband; she was Western and academic about it all, yet, she also used her common sense and everyday thoughts.

Was she amateurish and speculative, judging and drawing conclusions without really knowing? Yes, in many ways she was, and in our time, we want theories and structures rather than practical common sense. Yet, I maintain what I said at the beginning of today’s article, that we should give more prominence to the ‘simple ways’ of analyzing societies and the world around us. As a social scientist, though, I would still want us to analyze the broader structures, too, even when we talk about a marriage, a couple of pupils and teachers in a little refugee school, and so on. I want us to do both, look at the individuals and the structures. I want the specialists, researchers, administrator and politicians to step down from their pedestals of the structural, academic and theoretical balconies. I want them to see each human being, small and big, and try to feel compassion with ‘the other’ and see at least a bit of their situation from within.

In a time when the refugee crisis in Syria and Europe is in the news, I believe we would have been able to find solutions faster had we also studied and give status to the individual situations. We should think of each person and family as unique and special, not only call the refugees ‘caseloads’ and count them as statistics and describe them in abstract terms.

In Pakistan, with social services deficits, to put in a structural language, we would have been able to understand the situation on the ‘have-nots’ better if we had studied the issues at individual level. If we had realized that each child who is out of school is a sad tragedy, and a vast of talent.

I believe that if we look at people as people, as individuals, not only as figures and statistics and describe them in structural terms, we will understand the world around us better. We will be able to find better ways so that all kind-hearted human beings can share more and help those who need help.

People are kind everywhere; poor people are probably kinder than rich people. Poor Pakistanis are probably kinder in everyday life than rich Pakistanis – or rich Norwegians.