Developing a Mindset for Social Good

This post is by Angela Irvin of Chrysalides.

Social Good, a term often used by organizations, refers to the ideals and actions that promote a greater benefit for society. In addition to being socially responsible for the societal and environmental effects of their products and services, many organizations become involved with social issues for which they provide philanthropic solutions.

However, we should be reminded that organizations are not inorganic entities; they are human collectives, comprised of individuals. Therefore, the foundation for social good actually starts with the individual.

joining hands

Copyright aris sanjaya -

The concept of social good goes beyond the idea of simple charity. It is an encompassing mindset that stems from an empathetic desire to improve the human condition. However, empathy alone will not lead to a mindset for social good, nor will it always compel an individual to take action.

There are several concepts that are common (and perhaps necessary) in the belief systems of people with a social good mindset.


Interconnectedness is a worldview that is rooted in Buddhist philosophy. It is the belief that everything on earth is interrelated, and nothing exists independent of relationships to other things.

A social good mindset embraces the understanding that a problem affecting one segment of society will ultimately affect the whole of society. We are also connected in the sense that each individual reflects the humanness of every other individual. This is the basis of empathy, which allows us to see ourselves in others.

Interconnectedness also applies to our surroundings. Humans are inextricably interdependent with the environment. Abuse of its resources, or disregard for the creatures that exist within it, triggers a domino effect that ultimately affects human life.

Assets vs. limitations

Consider the following quote:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”—Edward Everett Hale

The key point is not to devalue ourselves by focusing on limitations. Instead, acknowledge the value of what we do have to offer. Even if limited financially, we have natural strengths and talents—which in themselves are valuable. Therefore, every person on earth has a charitable asset base.

The social good mindset is not deterred by limitations, because there is always an asset to offer. In other words, we should do what we can with what we have – and if we can’t do a lot, then do a little.

No action is too small

We don’t need give a grand performance in order to make a difference; small actions matter. Many people are deterred from acting due to the erroneous belief that their actions are too small to make a difference. However, it is important to think in terms of collective actions and understand that small actions contribute to a larger cause.

For example, if we visualize the vastness of an ocean, one act can be likened to a drop. However, though only a drop, each drop is a necessary component of the whole. Therefore, to understand the impact of a drop, simply imagine the outcome if there were no drops—the ocean would cease to exist.

The social good mindset is not concerned with the size of an act. In addition to the power of collective actions, we should remember that in the ocean, even a lone raindrop makes a ripple.

Spheres of influence

Whether we realize it or not, we influence the world on a daily basis. The social good mindset recognizes that regardless of occupation or social position, each of us is centered within a personal sphere of influence.

We’ve undoubtedly influenced many, even if only by sharing our experiences and insights. Kind actions tend to have a ripple effect, and we should keep in mind that our actions are often paid forward without us realizing it.

Internal locus of control

A high sense of internal control is vital to the social good mindset.

A person with an internal locus of control believes that success or failure is within their personal control and is determined by their skill and effort. By contrast, individuals with a high external locus of control believe that success or failure is determined by something outside of themselves, such as fate, luck, or powerful others.

In a recent study,* researchers compared the personality variables of Holocaust heroes (non-Jewish civilians who risked their lives to save others) to the traits of bystanders who offered no assistance. The study found that those who risked their lives to save persecuted neighbors had a higher sense of internal control than those who did not offer assistance. Additionally they found that those with an internal locus of control also possessed a stronger sense of social responsibility.

A person with a social good mindset believes they can accomplish great things through their own efforts, and they don’t wait for someone else to save the day.

Sense of purpose

The most important characteristic of the social good mindset is that it stems from a sense of purpose. Purpose is the primary motivation for the social good mindset. It shapes our thinking and guides our actions toward higher goals. When our purpose directs us toward social good, we become energized toward that pursuit. Therefore, we don’t look for reasons of why we can’t do something; we see only that we must do something.

Finally, the social good mindset doesn’t ponder the reasons for human existence, because it intuits the following answer:

“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”—Steve Jobs

How many of the listed characteristics and beliefs do you embrace in your own life? What other characteristics do you think are important?

*Reference: Midlarsky, E., Fagin Jones, S. and Corley, R. P. (2005), Personality Correlates of Heroic Rescue During the Holocaust. Journal of Personality, 73: 907–934

Angela Irvin is motivational blogger with a background in psychology and philosophy. Her writings stress the themes of thought-awareness, personal development, and purposeful living. She holds a degree in Health Administration and is currently pursuing an additional degree in Clinical Psychology. You can read more of her articles at her blog, Chrysalides, or in the Happiness Community on

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  1. I think the “internal locus of control” is the keystone element. Working with a realistic notion that we can’t control everything but we can do something is a powerful suggestion.

    I’ve always like the T.E Lawrence quote:
    “Governments saw men only in mass; but our men, being irregulars, were not formations, but individuals… Our kingdoms lay in each man’s mind.”

    • Based on the findings of the study I referenced in the article, you may be right regarding internal locus of control being the keystone. I guess we need to have that in order to fuel the “sense of purpose.” If we don’t have a sense that we can do “something,” then we may never be compelled to act on whatever feeling of purpose we may have.

      That’s a great quote, BTW 🙂

  2. Well-written article. I think that recognizing our interconnectedness is so important. I like to think of the metaphor that we are all individual droplets of water but together we make up the ocean. Once we begin acknowledging our connection with everyone and everything it is then that we begin to treat others with compassion and empathy.

    • Hi Anne,

      I share your opinion regarding interconnectedness. Have you ever noticed that some of the most selfish, opportunistic people tend to see themselves as “lone wolves” or “an island?” There is no sense of connection whatsoever, and therefore, compassion and empathy are minimal.

  3. Man those quotes are something else. Where did you get them?! I love that Steve Jobs one.

    It’s cool you’re using footnotes on blog posts. Not many people are brave enough for that. Keep rockin’.

    • LOL – the footnote is a habit from my academic writing. And, it’s actually a great study if anyone wishes to read it. Yes – the Steve Jobs quote is awesome.

  4. LOL – the footnote is a habit from my academic writing. And, it’s actually a great study if anyone wishes to read it. Yes – the Steve Jobs quote is awesome.

  5. Excellent article. Keep up the good work! I, too, think that the quotes lend excellent support to an already sterling point of view.

  6. Hi Angela,
    I agree and I believe that we all have the ability to help and assist causes that contribute to the greater good. Often in life we get to a point where we may feel helpless when it comes to helping others but as you stated in your post, that this is not true.

    • Yes, there is always something we can do. Even outside of causes, there are often things we can do through personal awareness and simply not contributing to the larger problems (e.g., littering on the beach).

  7. Just wanted to let you know that this article was informative and well written. I can’t wait for future articles.. Very pride of you keep up the good work..congrats

  8. great ideas!

  9. Great article. Clearly well-researched and thought out.

    Out of this list, what’s helped me continue helping the most is knowing that “no action is too small,” specifically that my actions *will* combine with those of others, creating a bigger ripple.

    I once got very discouraged feeling that people around me didn’t care enough. I felt like I was wasting my time and energy and that all the causes I cared about were destined to be doomed. Pretty extreme, I know, but I really almost did give up “caring.” Then I thought, if I, who care so much, give up, what hope is there?

    Today I found this quote by the Dalai Lama: “Never give up / No matter what is going on around you / Never give up”

    • I love that quote, Lauren. You are right; if the people who care give up, then there will be no one who is willing to do good work.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the article.

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