Fighting for the Common Good


The common good is under attack.

What I mean by the common good is the 2,000-year-old ethic of Plato, Aristotle and Jesus that says there is a greater interest than yours or mine. That when we come together in a civic space, togetherness demands we create a space that is good for all of us. Or, as the good Jesuits at Loyola taught me we create, “conditions of social life which allow individuals and groups ready access to their own fulfillment.”

Examples of the common good are things like an affordable and accessible health care system, peace among the world’s nations, an open and just legal system, public education. You get it: Institutions and programs that enhance our mutual flourishing. To be a common good means that it’s good for all.

But the common good can exist only because many – most – of us support it. It exists because we believe in it. We give ourselves to it. We sacrifice something for it. Collectively, the many of us believe that the common good is important enough that we will sacrifice something of our own desires to bring the common good about.

On the north side of our church in Chicago is a small park. It’s a welcome patch of green space in a dense neighborhood, complete with a few benches and trees to enjoy some people watching. Many mornings there is also litter. Litter others and I regularly pick up and dispose. Do I think people should pick up after themselves? Of course. But for the public good, I’ll “sacrifice” the small amount of time to keep the park clean for the next person. And happily, I see some doing the same for me.

The park example is probably one of the reasons we are having such a problem with the common good right now: the free loaders. We worry some people may not be doing their share or pulling their weight. They are taking off our good graces. Hmm. Maybe they are. But I’m pretty certain I’ve freeloaded off them at a different time.

This is what I wish our politicians were discussing: Things like how do we protect our environment and retool aging industrial workers? Or how do we maintain the value of accessible health care without undue burdens on small business owners? And most importantly, how do we build trust and administer fair and equitable justice and protection for all citizens?

That’s not our political life right now. But that doesn’t mean it has to be my life. Or yours. In our highly individuated culture, it’s easy to hear the message of You do you. It’s not so easy to hear the message I’ve got you. But that’s the message God has for the world. We’re here as lights. Lights that should be pointing the way to the goodness of a God that’s got us – and the world – in his hands.

Let’s don’t give up on the common good. It’s worth fighting for – because we’re fighting for all of us.

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