The Elusive Common Good

One of the most documented differences of a leader is that she or he provides a vision of the future – a clear destination of a better tomorrow. No argument about that. Visions provide hope – and inspire us to work hard to achieve that better place.

In defining an inspiring vision, we commonly use descriptors such as ideal, unique, clear images, future-oriented and common good. Which of these do you think is often the most difficult to provide? As difficult as it is for people to think big about a true ideal, it is the element called the common good that is the tough one.

Just curious – how do you even define common good?

Today, we live in a world of extremely opposite positions. The working definition of common good has evolved into that which is best for me, my party, my organization, my clan or whatever. Heaven forbid, we attempt to include in our common good those who might think differently.

Now you know why it is so unclear. It is complicated – and messy – and difficult. It takes effort – sometimes very uncomfortable effort – to find a real common good. For example, politicians are quick to profess how their policies are for the common good of a stronger America. Yet a peek beneath the covers shows that more often, the desired outcome for them is to be elected. The “Politics Industry” seems to be much more the ultimate contest for power, rather than the pursuit of a noble aspiration for the common good. That is why so many people experience fatigue and frustration just thinking about the election process.

Difficulty in finding a common good is true in any situation where there are strongly held and opposing points of view. So the perplexing question becomes, who decides what is “good” for everyone? Side A will argue their position is for the greater good; side B will do the same. Who is right!

Common good can only evolve from common values. And those values must mean the same things to everyone. The fact that there are a number of different definitions of our so-called common values is the difficulty so often faced today. Think about it… do you believe everyone in the US (or the world for that matter) has the same concept of what equality means? How about freedom? How about caring for one another? It does get messy, doesn’t it?

Remember this. As much as you would like, you cannot mandate a common good. Unfortunately, we have seen how the mandating of mask-wearing has turned out. People that have chosen to wear them would likely do so without the mandates. Those who aren’t wearing them are only offended by the mandates. Perhaps another approach is in order.

How about scaring people toward a common good? For nearly 8 months, people have been bombarded daily with the depressing news of COVID infection rates and death tolls, leaving many almost terrified of trying to live a somewhat normal life. In spite of this, the COVID numbers in the fall of 2020 are still as high as they have ever been and seem to even be increasing.

As a leader, you have to inspire others to embrace a common good. I recently did come across something that provided a ray of inspiration and hope toward reaching common ground – and it even occurred in the spiteful world of politics. Utah governor candidates, republican Spencer Cox and democrat Chris Peterson, recently made an ad together, promoting civility and decency. They jointly claimed that people can disagree with each other without despising one another, and offered other similar thoughts. It appears they are attempting to demonstrate that the common good of basic human values is still important, even in a fiercely competitive election cycle. Is it possible that the angst associated with many elections would be greatly reduced if candidates at all levels decided to behave in a similar fashion? We can only hope.

So leaders – keep working to illuminate the common good and striving to continuously appeal to others to embrace it. You will always have detractors, just do not let them block your vision of a better tomorrow. Keep helping people see their place in your vision, by helping them find their own meaningful and direct connections to it. That is one of your greatest challenges as a leader. Remain open-minded and willing to listen to and embrace the needs of others. This will help you find that treasured piece of common ground, even among all the differences.

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