Hands Off! Laissez-Faire. Not My Problem. Do We Have Collective Responsibilities for the World Around Us?

common good house buildingRecently I was biking along a park path when Mother Nature called. I spotted a city facility nearby, so off I hopped to make a visit. After I’d done my business, good citizen and supporter of public hygiene that I am, I flushed the toilet. Not a gurgle. Tried several more time to no avail.

Noticing several men nearby at work to set up for a public event, I approached them to tell them of the problem The first and younger one said he had no phone and didn’t know how to contact a manager anyway. The second and older had a phone as well as a manager’s contact info, but he informed me, a clogged toilet was “not my responsibility.” I suggested the restroom would quickly become his responsibility when five hundred angry party-goers were forced to duck behind bushes to relieve themselves.

I’ve always felt the collective good is something we all share a responsibility for. Not that we need to do back flips to help. Neither that we interfere in someone’s private interests. But something occurring in the great wide world that affects a number of us should be an item to which we pay attention.

Years ago a friend from Eastern Europe told me one problem with communism had been that no one felt answerable for anything because they felt no ownership. The government was in charge and to blame for anything that went awry. If your apartment needed repairs, you didn’t need to arrange for them. You simply stood around and complained. Since the collective was in charge, in fact no one was in charge.

A number of religions and philosophies urge us to take shared responsibility for the common good. I have to think a cooperative approach would benefit us most of the time. While repair of a broken lav comes nowhere close to the plight of millions of refugees in Europe, still the principle seems the same. If something’s busted, fix it.

Not everyone agrees with me. Perhaps they can convince 7.6 million Syrian refugees.

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