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Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

June 24, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 56




Sister Rita Larivee Howard Dean and a reminder of the common good

Sister Rita Larivee, SSA, NCR associate publisher

Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States yesterday. Not an unusual announcement, except he referred to the common good as being pivotal to his thoughts for leading this country. Years ago, this would not have seemed distinctive. But in today's political environment, which focuses almost entirely on the individual good, talk of the common good seems extraordinary.

As a society, we give great attention to personal needs and wishes, and celebrate the qualities of independence and personal freedom. We are taught to be competitive, to be first, to seek getting ahead. Not a bad thing, but it's a way of life that necessitates leaving someone behind.

We have private cell phones, private e-mails, private headphones, individual cassette players, and even private DVD players for viewing movies. Much of our day is geared to suiting the needs of our personal preferences. Families now have multiple televisions, one for each member of the household. Children, who once would have shared a bedroom, now have rooms of their own. Dinner, once considered a social event, is quickly being replaced by meals-for-one and dining while facing a television screen. Even our snack foods are packaged for personal consumption.

Essentially, we are convincing ourselves that, individually, each of us forms the center for our own private world. Personal choice and personal decision-making are affirmed as not only good, but have been elevated to such high levels of importance, that any other way is considered almost dysfunctional and certainly inhibiting of personal growth.

Personal feelings are more and more overshadowing the feelings of others, often with little regard for any hurt that might be inflicted. Even personal expression, regardless of how it might offend someone, is often defended as a right without responsibility for or to anyone.

There is much to be affirmed about our recognition of the individual and the respect due each human person as an agent of personal conscience and personal self-realization. Advances in the social sciences and our understanding of human nature and human potential testify to the best of what it means to be subjects capable of self-determination and personal fulfillment.

But we are also aware that the orientation toward oneself is incomplete without the clear recognition that we are social beings from the day we are born, participants in community living that is both local and global. Our society, however, would convince us otherwise, because it works out better financially for those able to capitalize on our self-interests and, in many ways, our need for self-gratification.

The common good is not a popular theme today. It requires us to put aside personal gain in favor of the best interests of the community. Yet, that is what this country was founded on; a vision that promotes the recognition of a new way of life providing equally for all without discrimination.

Howard Dean has given himself a tough job, but nonetheless a job very much needed in this country. The presidency of the United States is about leadership for the common good. Unfortunately, we've misplaced this tenet of our existence. Personal interests and personal interest groups have eroded the principles of justice for all, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty to our posterity.

May the campaigning to come get us back on track. We cannot afford to be derailed much longer.

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