Thursday, October 18, 2012
The common good
One of the most telling parables of limits comes from Garrett Hardin's, "Tragedy of the Commons". In this 1968 article in Science, he describes what happened when limits aren't recognized and respected. A commons was a pasture that belonged collectively to a village. Everyone in the village grazed cattle on the commons. As the number of animals owned by the village approached the capacity of the commons, the problem took the following form:
A villager could buy one more cow and gain the full income that a cow provided. The damage caused by one cow too many grazing the pasture would be small compared with the gain. Of course, the entire community would suffer from the damage because eventually the grass would be consumed. Yet, every member of the village was motivated to keep adding cows. The tragedy is that, to preserve the commons, the personal freedom of the villagers had to be curtailed.
In the article, Hardin illustrates the critical flaw of freedom in the commons: all participants must agree to conserve the commons, but any one can force the destruction of the commons. Although Hardin describes exploitation by humans in an unregulated public pasture, his commons and "grass" principle fit into our society today.
I see examples from society today in which exploitation seems to be almost a right. If each person decides to exploit a resource, regardless of what it is, there can be dire consequences.
In Al-Anon, Tradition One states that "Our common welfare should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity." Unity is based on harmonious cooperation. It means that I am willing to listen to the ideas, feelings, and opinions of others with an open mind. It means that I can share my own views but not insist on promoting my own way as the only way. Without unity, our groups would fail. And without the group, there is no place for the newcomer to go. Eventually, the whole structure would fail if we didn't think of the common good of all who come through the doors seeking recovery.
Unity also applies in relationships outside meetings. We each have needs and rights, but it's important to also have mutual respect for each other in relationships: with members of our family, with business associates, and friends. With unity, the whole is greater than any of its parts. I may think that I'm right, but it's also important to see the other person's viewpoint and allow them the dignity to do what they need to do. Living with another is much easier when I don't insist that my way is the only way.
Thinking of the common good has to come first in a family, workplace, and society if we are to function in a healthy manner. When I start putting my needs above that of my wife, then I know that she won't be happy and there will be an imbalance that leads to disharmony and probably resentment. If I can maintain balance, thinking of what she needs as well as my own needs, then life is much easier.
When I keep the common good in mind and recognize that I am part of something bigger than just me, I seem to do much better in relationships with others. I can express my opinion, listen to what others have to say, and reach an agreement that is amenable. I do my best to let go of the results when I don't get my way. I can talk things out with others but in the end, my idea may not be the one that is accepted.
I am reminded every day of how powerless I am over others. I simply can't control what they are going to do. Even though I consider the common good, another person may be selfish and only consider their own agenda. I do have the right to state my opinion and thoughts. After that, I have to let it go.