What is the better good?
It often feels like our world is spinning out of control with conflict and discord. It is hard to resolve the challenges that focus on our health, the fragileness of the economy, shifts in our environment and conflicts centered on human rights in a diverse society. It would be easy to ask “did the whole world work peacefully until we came on the stage?” The answer is a resounding “no.”
Let’s consider how individual freedom and rights often impact the good of the collected society.
The Founding Fathers of our country wrestled with this situation as they formed our constitution, states’ rights advocates vs. Federalists.
The Civil War of 1861-1865 was in part a challenge as to which governing body should determine the policy and practices toward slavery in our country. Today, a tug of war rages between those who want the federal government to set the course of action during this coronavirus pandemic and others who seek freedom for individuals or states to determine what to do. We question how is it to be decided whether our kids go back to school or if we can choose when to wear a protective face mask.
Carol Johnston, a theologian, recently sent me a paper she wrote. In it, she introduced many new ways of looking at common situations we humans have always faced. Let me throw out a quote from her:
“What makes for a healthy human being, and what aspects of that are part of economic issues? Given the inherent interrelatedness of everything, modern science and many pre-modern cultures tell us that a healthy human being needs to be a ‘person-in-community’ who is neither isolated from others on the one hand, nor socially absorbed to the point of the denial of freedom and individuality, on the other hand. To be sustainable, any economic model must acknowledge the interrelatedness of everything as fundamental.”
We in 2020 are not the first to experience a total disruption of our way of life. When I was a kid, we had a polio epidemic. Civic leaders mandated we must stay quarantined in our own homes and yards for weeks. During the Second World War, when we all needed to pitch in for the war effort, our food, gas and working hours were controlled by the government.
In the 1940s, who could have fathomed a world with cell phones and computers?
There is always a need to re-evaluate and update attitudes and practices that worked in the past in order to create effective and sustainable ways of working. In this process, the need to balance individual freedom with social justice is always a viable and lively debate.
We all want a healthy and strong citizenry and country at the end of this current cycle of troubles. Let us not lose the sense of camaraderie and goodwill that is needed to reach our potential for a brighter future.
It is a hard commandment to love those with whom we disagree. At the least, we can strive to respect each other, have compassion and help each other as we work and play together. Let’s agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
Each time a new event arises, we need to ponder in that specific case what leads to the better good. Observing individual rights or adhering to the collective will?