When I had graduated from Bergen Cathedral School, I moved to Norway’s capital Oslo for my university education. This was in the late 1970s, a soul-searching and optimistic time for youth and young adults.

We turned every stone, well, not quite, but we did try to find new ways of living in greater equality and fairness at home in the rich capitalist Western countries.

And we tried to explore new ways of the West’s relationship with the developing countries, or the third world, as was the term then (with Western Europe being the first world and the Soviet Union the second world, and America sometimes referred to as the new world).

We dug deep into political and existentialistic issues. We were pragmatic more than religious. We were philosophical and psychological, at least to a certain extent.

Today, I get nostalgic, yet also critical to the atmosphere of the time of my young adulthood. Still, I wish that we today, for the sake of our grandchildren and their children, could draw lessons from “my time” to build a better world.

No, I didn’t become a rich man, at least not on perishable, worldly goods.

As the year 2012 draws to an end, I came to reflect on issues of change and progress, of betterment of the life of human beings everywhere, in a world which not only has become smaller, but also with more inequalities and selfishness within and between countries.

It is a world where many of the socialist-inspired ideals from my youth have been put aside. Everyone has to fend for oneself in a more competitive world, affecting us in Norway and Pakistan.

Oslo is a rich cultural city, but when I had moved there in 1971, we were not supposed to engage too much in culture unless it had a political dimension. As socialists, or just as young people searching for new ways of doing things, we wanted culture to play a supportive role in our pursuit of change. We considered many of the established cultural manifestations, theatre performances, art exhibitions, and so on, to be bourgeoisie and just supporting the status quo.

Political and alternative culture was “in”, and much of what was created, even with such clear agendas, was indeed of great value, especially in literature. Some was new and some was just rediscovery and new interpretations of earlier works and thinking.

“Fiddler on the roof”, a theatre play based on Sholem Aleichem’s book “Tevye and his daughters”, and “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett were two of the theatre plays that we in the intellectual and political Oslo milieu came to enjoy. They were new productions, questioning and considering the way we live. “Waiting for Godot” was quite unclear and tentative in many ways, probably on purpose, as life often is, too!

But as young people we were seeking answers to broad and overwhelming questions. Often, we did not find any answers and ways beyond criticism of what we did not like. If we had been able to prescribe how change should take place, and we had implemented more of the thoughts and wishes we had, then the lasting impact would have been more significant. It would have been more sustainable, as we would say today.

“If I were a rich man” is the most catching song in “Fiddler on the roof”. Tevye, the milkman, the main character in the play sings it, as he reflects on his fate and his five daughters’ future, especially the one who wants to marry a wealthy many, alas, even older than her own father, who forbids her to see the man again. The girl disobeys him, but we are not told if the riches bring her happiness.

More important to the father is that he does not want his girls to marry outside the Jewish faith. Religion, culture, social status and economic well being become key themes in the play set in Russia a decade before the revolution in 1917. Tevye wants his family to keep its identity and traditions - and progress.

Yes, maybe to be rich would be good, but not if they have to give up the most cherished values. He asks his wife if she loves him after they have lived and struggled together for 25 years in an arranged marriage. She dismisses the question as foolish, but upon further thought, she realises that she does indeed love her husband.

Perhaps, the message here is that we should all work to achieve our dreams about change. Sometimes, we need the escapism of the fiddler on the roof, the Jiddish figure referred to in this play and so many other stories among the Jews. We can identify with Tevye and his family. We may live at different times, in different parts of the world, with different religions and cultures; yet, we realise that life’s basic things are the same for all and every human being.

Betterment of living conditions is important; if not in our generation, then in the next. But change, especially economic change, has its risks and negative side-effects, too!

The play is in many ways is a tribute to the working class values and cultures. Yes, we need change and improvement of living conditions - in Russia before the revolution, and in Pakistan today. But we should be careful about how change takes place and what the end results are. Ordinary people should themselves make decisions about the process and goals.

In the other play that I mentioned above from my youthful years in Oslo, notably “Waiting for Godot”, there is little change in people’s lives. The play is just about all the things that affect us in life, but they just remain quite static. The two main characters Vladimir and Estragon divert themselves, while waiting expectantly, endlessly and vainly, it turns out, for someone names Godot. They talk, sing, play games, exercise, swap hats, talk about religion, contemplate suicide, get tired of each other, even hostile to each other, but most of the time they feel close and supportive of each other.

The play is a tragicomedy, displaying and investigating the human existence, with its many activities and thought, including the place of, or lack of God in that existence.

The two plays have relevance to us in Pakistan and Norway today, and anywhere else in the world, the first one teaching us about change and yet the importance of keeping ones identity. The second play is static and about finding meaning and tranquillity within oneself even if little changes around us.

In Pakistan today, we need economic change and development, and we need to seek inner peace and outer peace. Importantly, we need to be proud and satisfied with most cultural values that we have, but not all! We also need change in cultural and religious interpretations. Yet, like Tevye, Pakistanis want to be masters of the change that takes place.

Indeed, change must not be imposed from outside - either that change is recommended by conservative religious leaders in the country, or by secular, foreign capitalists, strategists and imperialists.

In a few days, the calendar year 2012 will be history and we will write 2013. We know we need change in so many fields in society, and in our hearts. But we don’t always know what exactly we want and how to achieve it.

Besides, many high up in society are quite happy with things the way they are, and they will resist change and losing their privileges. We also know that change should not take place unless everyone takes part in the process, under passionate, local leadership. We don’t want change based on the interests of foreign, multinational capitalists and imperialists or, on the other hand, local leaders, who believe in narrow-minded and outdated ideologies.

I am optimist on behalf of the pragmatic Pakistanis, who do so well in their family businesses and many other fields, and who are open-minded, kind and all-inclusive. I hope that we can all pull out the best values and intentions and try to follow them in practical implementation in order to make our land, and our hearts, become better in 2013 and beyond. No, I don’t need to become a rich man, maybe be it is better not to; yet, no harm in dreaming either, as we all keep doing our daily chores.

I wish you all a Happy Year!

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from research, diplomacy and development aid.

Email: atlehetland@yahoo.com