The common good involves social systems, institutions, and environments that work in a manner that benefits all people. Parts of the common good include:

  • A good and affodable health care system
  • peaceful relations with the remainder of the world,
  • a just legal and political system,
  • a system for safety that is equitable,
  • an unpolluted natural environment,
  • a flourishing economic system.

As you have surmised, all our social problems in one way or another are linked to how well these systems function.

A fundamental problem for the United States in promoting the common good is that we have developed a taste for individualism. Americans place a huge value on individual freedom, personal rights, and following their own lead.  We do not want others to interfere with our pursuit of our individual goals and interests. It is virtually impossible to convince people that they should sacrifice some freedom, some personal goals, and some self-interest, for the sake of the “common good”. 

Different people have different ideas about what is worthwhile or what constitutes “the good life for human beings” and differences have increased during the last few decades particularly during the Trump years.  The voices of women and minorities have risen in volume as inequality has become more severe for marginalized groups. The most divisive group in recent times is the white working-class male who has witnessed jobs going away, lifestyles damaged, and lack of empathy. They are willing to be violent and are often led down paths that are not in their best interests.

And even if we agreed upon what we all valued, we would never agree about the value these factors have in our lives. The relative value of healthcare and saving Mother Earth would engender considerable debate and hostility. This tendency to disagree will diminish interest in the common good.

The costs associated with the common good are never shared equally. It is logical to expect wealthier folks to pay a greater percentage of the cost than those with less wealth or income.  But that is not often the case in America.  The wealthy have many subterfuges for hiding income and investments, many of them legal.  Yet if we made strides in achieving the common good, the wealth inequality would narrow. 

These problems pose considerable obstacles to those who call for more consideration of the common good. Still, appeals to the common good should not be dismissed. It is critical that Americans reflect on broad questions concerning the kind of society we want to become and how we are to achieve that society. Storming the Capital Building will not do it. The challenge we have is to view ourselves as connected members of the same community with shared goals, while respecting and valuing the freedom of individuals to pursue their own goals.

We simply must open our eyes, look across the room, the street, the division, the West Virginia border—and reach out to that neighbor, offering our hand, our compassion, and our heart.  Doing so crosses boundaries and cultural differences; it makes new cultural rules; it cares for the stranger. Love turns strangers into friends.

In any relationship, love causes us to cross boundaries to discover one another, to support one another, to heal one another When we do this, when we go crazy with affection, and offer kindness to our neighbor across the street or in Montana, we make a new kind of space between us. We make space for discovery and curiosity, for learning and growing. We make space for sharing stories. Maybe, we will change our view based on a novel approach or what others share.  (I have done this with others, and it works).  We can learn to see the world not only through our own stories, but also through the stories and views of other folks. I would love to know what kind of America members of the Proud Boys want to see. Do they want an authoritarian form of government with Trump as the dictator?

Most will say this will not work. How do we know, have we ever tried?

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