At the opening Academic Convocation at University of St. Thomas this week, the President of the University referred to a 2010 publication of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales titled Choosing the Common Good. It is not a document with which I was previously familiar.
After quoting the familiar definition of the common good from Gaudium et Spes (“the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily”), the document makes this important point.
Promoting the common good cannot be pursued by treating each individual separately and looking for the highest “total benefit”, in some kind of utilitarian addition. Because we are interdependent, the common good is more like a multiplication sum, where if any one number is zero then the total is always zero. If anyone is left out and deprived of what is essential, then the common good has been betrayed.
I think this message is one that cannot be repeated too many times, especially in the United States, which has such a tendency toward individualism and self-reliance (and parochialism for that matter). We need to be reminded that if anyone is left out, we all suffer.
At our Weekly Manna at the law school yesterday, the student who was our speaker talked about her experience working in Uganda this summer, which generated a discussion about discernment of each of our roles. On the one hand, as one person observed, none of us can solve the world’s problems on our own. On the other, we do each have a part in that solution.
And each of us needs to ask ourselves: What am I doing to promote the common good? What can I do to help ensure that zero is not one of the numbers in the multiplication sum?