Monday, May 27, 2013

The Common Good

a hardly visible and rarely used desert trail near my retreat house 

Several years ago Yale Law Professor, Stephen Carter, wrote a book in which he raised a question about what makes a nation "civilized." He concluded that "civilization" is characterized by the sum of sacrifices made for the common good. 

In  a civilized nation, citizens do more than look inward with the goal of meeting their own personal needs.  In a civilized nation, citizens look beyond themselves and work together to assure the common welfare of everyone. To the degree that this doesn't happen, the nation is barbarian and not civilized. 

In his book, Professor Carter draws upon the lesson from history and concludes that a barbaric nation has never survived the test of time. 

On this Memorial Day as I reflect upon my own country and nation, I wonder about how civilized we are and reflect upon whether or not we are on that slippery slope of becoming more and more barbaric.

Today we remember those men and women who have sacrificed their lives for the welfare of the common good in our country's wars.  But for the average citizen of this land, I worry sometimes that ideas like "sacrifice" and the "common good" are foreign concepts in our everyday living. Words like "sacrifice" and "common good " are rarely used nowadays.

We are immersed in a culture of consumerism and self gratification. Many people today are guided by the ethic that the ultimate purpose in life is to get to the top of the heap no matter who you have to step on in order to get there. 

Happiness is promised to those who have the most; and those who have the most often times care very little about those who have the least. 

How civilized are we?

Memorial Day is a day to reflect on our "civilization" - to make personal and national commitment to follow the path of sacrifice and to make the common good more important than individual gratification. 

The Dalai Lama once said:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

...........a good path for a civilized nation to follow.

Happy Memorial Day!

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