Friday, September 14, 2012

The Common Good

When intersection lights fail, those who must wait to pass, get to test who they are. The truth of the matter is if we could be counted on to govern ourselves at such time, there would  be little need for  signal lights at all.  Four drivers would meet and then each would wait their turn to drive through the intersection.

One of my friends who attended an all boys school away from home tells this story.  The dormitory master would turn out  the light at bedtime.  This signaled to Bart and his nine year bunk buddies that the day had ended and sleeping until sunrise was in order. As soon as the dorm master's footsteps could be heard to reach the bottom of the stairwell,  someone closest to the street would open  the drapes so that the sidewalk lamps just outside the building could shine through the window.  From this shallow light, Bart and his buddies would engage in a death-to-the-kill pillow combat.

One night they heard the sound of the dorm master's footsteps headed back toward their room.  Every boy jumped into his cot and pretended to snore.  The dorm master switched on the light and feathers abound floated in the air.  Busted, the boys all began to giggle. And so did their dorm  master.

Both situations demonstrate why rules exist when we become  a part of a community.  In Bart's dorm, some bookworms wanted to sleep but dared not  assert their will to do so.  Someone in a hurry at the intersection often is impatient to wait her turn.  So the Common Good method of handling such affairs employs  convenient rules to bring order and fairness to everyone affected.

Yes, we do give up our individual wants in such moments. Still, we gain peace of mind as we consider the needs of others in our community.  Put another way, we learn how to think beyond our preferences, and to assign importance and value to the preferences  and needs of those around us.

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