For the Common Good

One of the few things I remember from my one semester as a Secondary Education major in college was a discussion about the reasons we force kids to go to school. After all, it wasn’t always so. A few hundred years ago, there was no law mandating children be in schools. At some point, however, it was deemed good, not only for the children themselves but for society at large, to educate its young citizens and to help them grow up into responsible, contributing members of society. Educating our kids is for their good and for the common good.

The idea of the common good comes from the village mentality of “we’re all in this together,” rather than the individualistic mentality of “every man or woman for themselves.” It’s the idea that your well-being is essential to my well-being, and visa versa. It’s the idea that the health and happiness of me and mine is not more important than the health and happiness of you and yours, and visa versa. It’s the idea that if I contribute to your ability to thrive, you will contribute to mine.

The problem is, we all have the inherent tendency to either be selfish, or fear others will be selfish and take advantage of our generosity and not be generous back. Some of us try to fight those tendencies. But in general, our governing authorities sort of have to force a community-mindset on us. They set up some “common good” systems, such as a system of laws, or public services like education or police/fire departments. These systems have been put in place to

1. ensure the community as a whole can survive and perhaps even thrive, not just the wealthy or the ones who luck out by never experiencing catastrophe, and

2. ensure all of its members are given the opportunity to be (or grow into) responsible, contributing members of their community.

People have different ideas of what kinds of systems bring about the common good, and people have different ideas of what types of people deserve the common good. Obviously, I have my own ideas, too, and I’m using this blog space, in this particular category, to share them. My posts are not meant to spur debate or unaccountable ranting or name-calling (I reserve the right to delete or disable comments to avoid any of that). Instead they are meant to offer observations and perspectives to those who are open to learning, and to offer empathy and support to those suffering from a lack of the common good in their life. As an aside, I must acknowledge that

a) societal concerns are not simple matters to resolve and do not have easy answers,

b) there will never be a solution that fully satisfies any one person or any one community, and

c) I have no positional or educational authority regarding societal concerns, just personal experiences and opinions based on a childhood in poverty, a background as a sociology major, inner-city internships, and conversations with and testimonials from people who have experienced a lack of the common good in their lives.

I cannot fix the big problems. But in my small world I will try to be one more empathetic listener, one more generous giver, one more activist who harnesses and channels anger into meaningful change, and one more messenger who spreads the news that we are all better off when we pursue the common good. I hope that you will join me.