Seeking the Elusive Common Good
My felt needs tend to take precedence over yours, at least
in my own mind. Left to my own devices, my decisions and my
actions will reflect my selfish priorities. Please do not
misunderstand me. Not all of my wants and desires are bad. In
fact, most are decent and honorable, at least from my
perspective. Actually, problems regarding my plans and goals
surface only when they collide with the competing wishes and
desires of others in my world. Most likely, you could sign off on
the same confession, right?
Deciding what is good for me and mine from my vantage point
presents a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. On the other
hand, agreeing to accept the priorities established by other
people, even when those decision contribute to the good of a
larger group outside my narrow, personal world, presents me with
an enormous challenge. Yet, working for the common good of my
larger world is needed as never before in my lifetime.
Ironically, a renewed commitment to work for the common good
of our larger world is passed on to us precisely because our
world continues to shrink daily. As our world shrinks, it also
expands with growth and incredible change. Take my hometown for
example. Richardson, Texas vintage 1953 and Richardson, Texas
today share very little in common. I grew up in a sleepy little
farming village nestled on the highway to Oklahoma City about
twenty miles north of Dallas, the cotton capital of North Texas.
I raised my two daughters in the same geographic location, but
not in the same environment. My girls grew up in a bustling,
cosmopolitan urban setting jammed up against the city limit
marker of Dallas to the south. My oldest daughter, like my wife
and I, graduated from Richardson High School. When Brenda and I
walked across the stage during our graduation ceremony at Moody
Coliseum, we represented the only language group in the class.
When our daughter walked across the very same stage, she was one
of over twenty-five ethnic and language groups represented by the
student body. Change rules our world and our community today.
Change translates into diverse needs, expectations and
priorities, all competing for attention, resources and
satisfaction. So, how do we manage our diversity and our needs in
an ever more complex world for the sake of the common good of
all? To use the category of Scott Peck, how do we achieve
"civility" together for the benefit of as many of us as
possible? Consider these principles for arriving at the common
- Remember your view point, your needs, and your priorities
are exactly that: yours! When people decide to live in
community, they agree to cooperate, compromise and
communicate for common community goals. "Give and
take" becomes a way of life in genuine community.
- Regard personal sacrifice as beneficial to everyone in
your community, but understand that it must begin with
you. The location of a new street, the change in a
school's utilization or attendance zone, the opening of a
new business, the growth of a church, changes in you
firm's operating procedures or the needs of children and
senior citizens provide us choices as members of a
thriving community. We can object to everything not
serving our personal, selfish needs, or we can remain
open to a new vision of what would be best for the larger
- Learn to listen to those with whom you differ by actually
getting to know them. How different would our community
disputes feel and appear if people with competing points
of view got together for the sake of understanding and
appreciating the needs and perspectives of one another?
Time is not wasted when we are listening!
- Our strength as a community arises out of our diversity
as a people. People who are different from me and my
family enrich my life, my mind and my experience.
recognizing the benefits inherent in diversity will go a
long way toward defusing tensions in many of our typical
community disputes. Often our preconceived ideas about
people who are different from us, rob us of wonderful
experiences as well as personal growth.
- Never forget: children develop their notion of human
civility by watching the adults in their world.
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