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Integrate Magazine

Raise your perspective. Wake up your ideals.

The Common Good # 03 – Covenant

The objective of the common good is the benefit or interest of all and the inclusion of individual diversity. You overcome the possibility of conflict through operational parameters. The framework for harmonizing the interest of individuals and groups with the interest of the larger communities. The Constitution guides establishing norms, traditions, and laws. The genius of the US Constitution is the separation of power within three branches of government and an independent judiciary

Ultimately the common good of any society depends on the individuals or group of individuals who administer the norms, traditions, and laws. The more complex the society, the greater the distance from the common good. This distance creates factions that reinterpret the common good as their prerogative. This always leads to a conflict of interest. When the common good is subordinate to an individual or faction, it is no longer the common good. George Washington in his farewell address cautioned us to the danger.

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

We find ourselves at this moment. When party and ideology and personal interest are devastating the common good. we look back at the framework where the first amendment to the US Constitution give you protection via “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Common Good #02 – Diversity

The common good is diverse, individualistic, and communal. The larger the community, the greater the diversity. Holiday family dinners reinforce this understanding of diversity. Even within the core family there are differences. You complain about that crazy uncle ranting about religion, politics, and social norms. However, when someone outside the family criticizes him, you jump to his defense. This is the mystery of how you understand individual paradigm, within the context of the greater whole the common good. “Political civility is not about being polite to each other. It’s about reclaiming the power of ‘We the People’ to come together, debate the common good and call American democracy back to its highest values amid our differences.” (Parker Palmer, PhD)

The 2016 election cycle rebuked political correctness. This is how understanding and ideas get distorted. Crazy uncle talk about political correctness is simply the way in which you are distracted from important ideas. If you cannot speak frankly and honestly about a subject or issue, you ensure that the problem is never resolved. Political correctness and respect or two different issues. Respect is consideration of others, their ideas, traditions, faith, and moral paradigms. Respect is the fundamental framework for the common good. Civility is the guiding principle. The common good requires enculturation without diminishing the contributing cultures and traditions. When you build on the present with many voices, stories, and dreams, you will advance the concept of the common good. The great American tradition is one of pluralism, not exclusive secularism. The strength of our country is reflected in the contributions that we all make to the common good.” (Cardinal, Donald Wuerl)

The Common Good #01 – What is it?

Since the time of the ancient Greeks common good means “the benefit or interest of all”. The all relates to a domain. It is appropriate that individuals have a variety of understanding on this concept. In my case I believe that the common good is the socio-economic circumstances that are inclusive, respecting the diversity of individuals, creating a better tomorrow, and benefiting its domain. This 24/7 global environment complicates this meaning. Throughout history thinkers attempt to define the concept of the common good. Like most human endeavors it is about relationships. These relationships include governments that define the rules of engagement.

The current environment with its divisiveness, conflict, insecurity, and search for progress depends on an understanding of the common good. The common good is always a work in progress where we establish laws, institutions and socio-economic advantages. These are never set and forgotten and must always be tuned and refined within the context of reality. Achieving benefits or interest of all begins with laws, regulation and traditions. However, as Thomas Aquinas advises “Law is nothing other than a certain ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by the person who has the care of the community”.

Each generation must think and assess the meaning of the common good because it is what impacts us all. In subsequent posts, I will explore the guiding principles like constitutions, and governance in the current environment. To see how we can reach a respectful dialogue and ensure the future. The concept of common good is subjective. Looking at the laws and traditions that impact your life is how we move towards objectivity – which is the only path to a common ground.

Empathy #05 – Metagrobolized

The last post attempted to provide some insight into individuals acting out because of their patriotic duty to an ideology. I try to understand this, but I find it impossible. Besides the history of the Holocaust, I have personal friends whose stories about the Rwandan genocide have a profound impact on me.

I struggle to understand the issues of war, where patriotisms lead to violence. What is impossible to comprehend is the antagonist who faces the victim and does unspeakable and horrific violent acts. How is it possible for one person to see another and abandon all values?  Stories of atrocities so barbaric that they defy explanations. Here it is impossible for me to have empathy for the perpetrator. Instead my admiration is for the victims who are learning how to tame these demons. Fortunately, these people of evil are small group. Do not let these monsters rob you of your character.

Then there are those who live in an ego-centric world. They move through life like zombie, without connecting with the common good. While the previous group hold the gold medals of evil, this group is somewhere between silver and bronze. Remember like the Olympics training in the art of ego-centricity, time will eventually live in a frozen mental state. In this case, you need to face reality to see the depths of their inner retreat. If they live within their own cells, empathy is impossible.

Then finally there are the majority whose struggle with the burdens of life or narrow paradigms block their ability to see. They see things as black or white. The ability to connect with these individuals can expose many colors. Lift the shades to expose a horizon of rainbows by sharing stories. The ancients created new possibilities by retelling myths that open new possibilities. When those who see the bright colors of life, share their stories, we all advance to a new and brighter level of understanding. In this case empathy has value in making progress. This is the way we gain civil rights, advance science, develop new technologies and advance the socioeconomics of our civilization.

Empathy #04 – History

May 7, 2017 the 60 Minutes program where Leslie Stahl interviews Benjamin Ferencz, provides a unique insight into understanding the worst of humanity. The entire interview is most revealing. The part that is most impactful is when Leslie asks “what turns a man to a savage beast…?” Benjamin’s answer it a powerful insight into how you must see this situation. “He’s not a savage. He’s an intelligent, patriotic human being.” The individual’s loyalty to an ideology, religion, tribe, or personal interest is the permission to ignore empathy. These allegiances are license to disregard reality and plod along a path towards annihilation.

This is more than history; it is history repeating itself. The current conflict over Universal Health Care in the USA, is emblematic of a larger set of issues. In a climate of ideological polarization, oppositions take on a distorted set of priorities. Myopic patriotism to an ideology disregards the constitutions’ stories and pleas to keep and update this program. There are two rules for implementing any improvement. One, the initial rollout has imperfections. Two, time is change and you must maintain the improvement.

The turmoil over health care is only one of a plethora of issues, such as climate, immigration, religious liberty, gender equality, etc.  Civilizations come and go. They do not disappear by themselves. It is the patriotic march to the edge of the precipice that cause the plunge. The only remedy is for the citizens to listen to their neighbors and act to avoid the inevitable wars that follow an inability to empathize.  In a 24/7 global social media world, we have the advantage of not being surprised by the ultimate takeover. Remain engaged, act!

Empathy # 03 – Advantage

There are several advantages for learning how to empathize with others. The most obvious is your ability to understand another’s circumstances. You are not required to condone their behavior. However, by seeing and comprehending their situation, you can soften your judgement. Condemnations lead to mistrust and rupture social harmony. No one escapes the trials and tribulations of life. When you perceive how chance events can cause unusual behavior, you gain wisdom. Ultimately this builds a treasury of skills that enhance your ability to handle predicaments. In this case empathy benefits you!

Stepping back and evaluating behavior changes the environment. A 90-year-old lady, whose life was filled with reading, housekeeping, and cooking, suddenly goes blind. What appears as incoherence, may be the lack of stimulation. An active mind remains active. Losing a routine of activeness does not stifle thinking! The subconscious will prevail.  The subliminal with its vaults of memory does not know time. What sounds like disorientated talk, may be the disconnection of many thoughts out of progression. Before you proclaim a diagnosis, empathize, look for reasonable alternatives.

A less obvious advantage is your ability to empathize with antagonists. Taking the time to empathize with those you must interact with but least comprehend. Once you understand their behavior by taking the time to see the cause, you gain control. This may be co-workers, family, or friends. Knowing that someone fears failure, you must accept that they will avoid everything. This does not mean they are not willing to act, if it will not expose them to failure. Therefore, if you put them in this situation, you will get resistance. Knowing in advance what drives their behavior will save you anxiety and conflict!

Empathy # 02 – Family

The opportunity to spend a week with my mother gave us time to talk and pickup conversation, unlike phone calls. Catching up on family and relatives brought back memories of celebrations and relationships. Because of a heart condition, my paternal grandfather could no longer farm. The youngest brother, my dad and his new bride were the ones living with dad’s parents and farming. These were good times, because my mother tells stories. How the mother-in-law taught the new bride about cooking. Listening to mom tell these stories makes it plain that they became good friends. Grandpa became the baby-sitter, while grandma, mom, and dad farmed. In all the years of listening to stories, and my memory of that time it was a time of idyllic compatibility. Most of all I remember both when we lived on the farm and afterwards – the relationships and personalities of these paternal relatives.

Dad was the youngest of two older sisters and a brother. The oldest aunt was harsh, a person difficult to understand. Whereas her younger sister was the exact opposite, someone you always wanted to be with. Fearing or looking forward to family visits was the result of attitudes. For the first time, I understood the harsh and difficult life of the older aunt. This contrasted with a better life for the younger aunt. Listening to these stories, and learning more about each family, made me see things differently. Both families had their share of pain and suffering. They simply choose to deal with these human conditions in a different way. Too frequently we overlook the demons haunting those who we think are doing fine. Empathy is only possible when we stop and listen to the whispers of the quiet ones. And see beyond the shouting of the loud ones.

Empathy #01 – Feeling Truth

I have not lived in my home town for over 50 years. During this time, I had three different cities that were for a time my home town. However, the city of your youth and where family still lives has a special place. Most of all it resonates with memories that define a foundation of how you feel and act. With maturity comes change, but fundamentals from your original home town still influence who you are. In my case, these memories are very happy. It was a magical time in helping me develop. The 50’s and 60’s were times of fundamental change. These were times when religion, civil rights, women’s rights, were defining new paradigms.

When you allow the honesty of youth to mingle with the pragmatism of age you begin to feel and understand truth. Truth is only possible when you empathize with others. Empathy is not feeling sorry, or thinking you know how someone else feels. Empathy is your ability to stop, and see the reality of another person’s life. You understand their joy without jealously, observe their faults without judgements, envisage their demons, and feel their humanity. If you cannot empathize you cannot understand. It’s not sympathy or comparability, it is wisdom.

Each time I visit home, this becomes more impactful. Watching your loved ones grow older and seeing the changes of the city, along with what is still there; alters the prisms you use to feel truth. This time it was metanoia.

Prism #11 – Feeling Truth

I just returned from a visit with my family, who I had not seen for the past two years. Most important was to spend time with my 97-year old mother, who is now blind and struggling with the pressures of time. Being with her and my brothers, one her primary care giver and my younger brother and his wife who pitch in. It is important to watch and listen to their daily joys and struggles. To see without judging the change when you become responsible for a parent. Watching and listening to my mother as she struggles with the single most difficult thing to happen to her at this age. An avid reader, cook, and conversationalist to lose this ability is beyond frustrating. She remains feisty, as independent as possible, and strives to maintain her sense of humor. It was good to be with them and gain an appreciation of their lives, which phone conversations can never reveal.

On the way, down and back I decided not to read. Instead I engaged my seat mates in a conversation. This was also an enlightening and inspiring part of this trip. Engaging with real people on a one to one exchange uncover what text messaging cannot. The reinforcement that we are alike. That we wish for the same things, even though in different degrees. Two strangers who became acquaintances by the end of the trip from different parts of the country. Different background, different interests, with dreams and desires to do something positive with their lives that can make a difference in the world. This trip with family and new contacts reinforces the message that you find truth thru the stories and feelings of others.

“Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” [Sharon CreechWalk Two Moons]. Understand a person by listening and watching them tell their stories. Each story will change you and eventually the way to feeling truth is to empathize with these stories.

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