Commitment to democracy demands the right balance between allowing for personal freedom and liberty without impairing the common good. But what is the common good?
It seems as though the ‘common good’ is a fine but vague-sounding phrase that can easily be manipulated by leaders to justify and institutionalise their own political agenda, often triggered by an unrestrained craving for popularity or votes. Noble Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter, well known for his struggle to advance democracy and human rights, could not have coined it better when he said: “It is difficult for the common good to prevail against the intense concentration of those who have a special interest, especially if the decisions are made behind locked doors.”
Seeking the common good in its deepest sense means continually insisting that people are of infinite worth. People are worth more than any system, any institution or any cause. The common good seeks to safeguard that allowing for the ‘personal good’ or ‘the individual’s right to freedom’ does not in any way endanger the ‘communal good’.
Threats to the common good can be easily identified in our beloved sunny island. Take the environment. For the personal ‘good’, or rather ‘greed’, of developers, land is being grabbed to build majestic hotels, petrol stations and massive supermarkets, conducive to transforming Malta into an environmental hell-hole, as if size does not matter anymore, as if our children do not need open spaces any longer, as if anything goes for the sake of the economy.
The common good seeks to safeguard that allowing for the ‘personal good’ or ‘the individual’s right to freedom’ does not in any way endanger the ‘communal good’
Take the issue of legalising cannabis. Shall we allow the seeming ‘personal good’ of using the drug for ‘recreational use’ to justify its legalisation? What are the long-term effects on the health of our future generations? In the words of experienced Caritas Malta director Leonid McKay: “the bad of cannabis definitely outweighs the good, and just because the mortality rate of a substance is low does not mean it should be legalised”.
Again, take the issue of child adoption by same-sex couples. Some may argue that it is a personal good and an equality right for same-sex couples to adopt children. Although previous studies had demonstrated that there were no significant differences between the gender identities of children raised by heterosexual parents and children raised by gay or lesbian parents, it was clear that subtle differences were emerging (Crowl et al. 2008).
Sutfin et al.’s (2007) study demonstrated that, in fact, there was a great deal more going on than differences of parental sexual orientation. The study revealed that the attitudes that parents hold about gender are the most influential factors in the children’s own gender development.
Christianity has a major role in safeguarding the common good. Christians are called to be a “counterculture for the common good”. We should seek a healthy dialogue with emerging secular powers for the benefit of all society. If we commit ourselves to the common good, we must become more public in our thinking and choices.
The common good helps Christians to better articulate their commitment to a pluralistic society; the common good requires caring for all people – loving our neighbour no matter what they believe. The common good calls us to go beyond selfishness and seek a higher ground that benefits the wider community, especially the most vulnerable.
As Christians we are called to discern our personal choices. Our choices aren’t just about our private fulfilment. They also either contribute to others’ flourishing or undermine it.
Gordon Vassallo is an accredited spiritual guide at the Centre for Ignatian Spirituality.
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