Thursday, March 3, 2011

The common good

"Let every action aim solely for the common good." One of my favorite quotes from Marcus. It's definitely an aspirational concept, as it's difficult to process the idea of getting out of bed and taking a shower somehow serving the welfare of one's neighbors. Unless they're going to be working alongside you and smelling you. Or unless you're leading the community action network that's helping to repair the road upon which you all happen to live. See how easy?

It's not hard to convince yourself of anything as long as you keep an open mind about the topic. Of course, the intent of Marcus' quote was not to encourage the concept that eating your 3 squares a day was going to advance the community. He meant public actions serving the public weal. That shower is, almost by necessity, a private action (unless your neighborhood and local statutes are a lot more relaxed than mine.) But I like to think that I've absorbed the concept at every level upon which it was intended. In point of fact, getting out of bed and getting your ass in gear could be considered of benefit to the people with which you live, communicate and, in some cases, serve. In my case, the question often becomes: where does one draw the line?

As my best friend has told me more than once, I'm, uh, not lacking for self-confidence. There are many things at which I know that I'm pretty capable. There are more at which I may not be great, but at which I'm able to fake it so that most won't know the difference. In that respect, one would think that whatever rewards might result from those capabilities would be justifiably mine and I could feel good about having achieved what was necessary to receive them. Or, for that matter, one could envision benefiting from good fortune simply from being willing to get out there and try, as well as having advantages of experience or skill or talent; "making one's own luck", as the saying sometimes goes.

But I'll be the last person to tell you that I deserve anything. In point of fact, it's far more likely for me to concede any kind of reward or advantage to someone else, simply because it's, once again, easy for me to talk myself into it precisely because I have an open mind about so many things... and a largely closed one about myself.

It's very simple for me to suggest to myself that someone else is better at something than I am and that any advantage I've gained in a contest is largely through mistakes of theirs or luck on my part and/or lack of same for them. It's likewise simple for me to hand things over to someone in a material dispute largely because my version of "the common good" often translates to "anyone but me." From my perspective, anyone could do better with material resources or advantages than I could and, thus, there's no sense even arguing about it because they'll at least do something useful and I probably won't. It's not even a question of who deserves it ("'Deserves' got nothin' to do with it.") It becomes more of a question of worth. Are they (whomever 'they' is) the more worthy recipient? Yes. Does that comprise the "common good"? Usually not, but having the prize come to me doesn't serve the "common good", either, so it might as well go to someone else.

This is one of the foundation stones of my disaffection with the capitalist system, in that said system virtually requires one to step on the bodies of his competitors in order to "succeed" (putting aside the farcical nature of the construct since the 16th century, anyway) and, while I'm no stranger to winning things like games, it's my first nature to take the rewards of winning and hand them off to someone else (or at least feel miserable about not doing so; or perhaps turning down any reward. Or compliment. Or even acknowledgment of success.) Why? Is it because I'm not worthy? Maybe. Is it because others are more worthy? Probably.

So how does someone with my level of confidence become completely mortified at the idea of benefiting from any kind of personal success or good fortune? That's a complex question with what may not be a single answer. Guilt? Pride? Martyr complex? A conviction that my happiness is utterly secondary (if not tertiary) to that of those around me? That last one sounds the most likely. After all, I always arched an eyebrow at the whole "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" thing. The first two are fundamental, of course, but the third always struck me as kind of half-assed. If one has the first two, shouldn't the third be a given? But what if that's only when the first two are pursued for... the common good?

Regardless, keep fighting for all three, Wisconsin. You probably deserve it more than I do, anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes I am still struck at the similarities in our personalities on the deeper level. Alas, we are the minority with our filthy socialist beliefs.