Sociologist’s Hope in 2017

As we begin a new year, we hope that the year will be good. Both at the personal and the political level. Being a sociologist, what kind of hope should I remind people of?

An ordinary person cannot do much to turn the trends reflected by the indicators that are usually monitored, such as life satisfaction, birth rate, participation in the political process, employment rate or crime rate. Therefore, I would like to point out an area that is not so obvious but still significant, and what is most important – an area where each of us can make visible changes towards a common good.

For example I hope for the Czech version of Wikipedia to reach 400,000 articles in 2017. At the moment, the number is more than 370,000 and volunteer contributors usually add some 30,000 new articles a year. Of course, the number does not matter as much as quality and scope. But this is getting better, too, in the course of time. The Czech Wikipedia is already the largest dictionary ever compiled in Czech, and thanks to countless hours of work by thousands of enthusiasts, it keeps growing.

I chose Wikipedia as an example because once on the web, everyone can see it, and also because nowadays, the internet is used a lot to spread lies and propaganda. A project striving to discriminate between verified information and rumours and to offer a balanced perspective is therefore extremely important.

However, Wikipedia is not the only example. One finds enthusiasts working for free or for far less than they would get in the commercial sector in many other areas. For example my friend Petr is one of those I know in person and who has my admiration. Petr uses his and his friends’ money to protect the environment in his community; for example he buys nesting boxes and installs them in parks in Prague.

Or a group of people who managed to save a baroque church in Pohorská Ves in the Novohradské Mountains near the Austrian border, from demolition. The interior has not been redecorated yet, so one can still read “Long Live the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia” on the organ loft, an inscription left by a vandal frontier-guard member. But the building has a roof now and it will be saved.

Or the “Hlavak” initiative. As the refugee crisis culminated, members of the spontaneously formed group helped disoriented refugees at the Main Railway Station in Prague (in Czech, it is Hlavní nádraží, and “Hlavak” is its colloquial name). The refugees were released from detention by Czech immigration police, with a removal order and just a few Czech crowns in their hands. The “Hlavak” initiative together with the Red Cross helped them leave the country in a dignified manner and equally importantly let them experience the sense of belonging.

Or the employees of the day-care centre in a convent in Praha-Řepy where my mum often stays. St. Charles Borromeo Home provides care to old men and women suffering from all kinds of old-age ailments; the people working here serve them with understanding and humour.

Or a group of non-professional musicians from Rožmitál pod Třemšínem, who rehearsed the Czech Christmas Mass by their bygone neighbour Jakub Jan Ryba and produce it enthusiastically in local churches where the pastorale was heard for the first time more than two hundred years ago to please fellow citizens.

And I could go on and on. Enthusiasts caring for the old and sick; teaching children and doing sports with them; helping reintegrate people who are down and out; protecting and renovating sights; carrying on local traditions; taking care of the environment; getting involved in politics and municipal projects; cultivating the internet; being creative, innovative, inspiring, passing experience on. All of this with hardly any economic motivation, and often even in spite of economic motivation.

Thus, this is my sociological hope for the new year: I hope that charity project will keep flourishing; that they will get more support from the government and from municipalities. And most importantly – that more helping hands will get involved.