Self-centeredness and selfishness are driving forces behind many societal problems. They are manifested in efforts to maximize individual rights and freedom without sufficient consideration of how these actions impact others.
How we express our views and opinions would improve if we considered the common good, for example.
As I wrote previously, “The First Amendment asserts our right to free speech. … However, freedom comes with responsibility. Free speech that leads to violence and harm of others makes the speaker complicit in the deed.”
The vitriol found too often on social media, the mudslinging in political campaigns and the argumentative nature of groups on opposite sides of the latest “hot button” issue would be tempered by a less self-centered use of one’s freedom of speech.
The same would hold true for driving habits, particularly when one considers how often accidents are the result of a disregard for the safety of others.
Would we text and drive, speed excessively and carry out other reckless driving maneuvers if we were thinking of how our actions impact those around us?
Even if these actions result in a single-car accident, there are still many people negatively impacted besides ourselves.
Shopping practices would likely change, as well. The insanity of Black Friday in which shoppers have fought one another over purchases and even trampled a Wal-Mart employee to death to obtain an item on sale wouldn’t take place.
We would also be asking more persistently about supply chains, labor conditions, wages and environmental impacts regarding the items we purchase.
The “best deal” would no longer be determined solely by the price paid at the register but would account for a variety of behind-the-scene calculations.
Enlarging our vision to the global community would require also that our daily lives be shaped by a consideration of how future generations will benefit (or suffer) from our present-day actions.
We would, to borrow a phrase from Robert Parham, EthicsDaily.com’s executive editor, always consider how to “love our neighbors across time” by ensuring that our actions work to sustain creation’s beauty and vitality for future generations.
John Donne’s often-quoted line, “no man is an island,” is at the heart of this alternate narrative that considers others in choosing the time and manner in which we exercise individual rights and freedoms.
Donne’s recognition is a needed challenge to the harmful idea that individual actions only impact the individual and, therefore, are nobody else’s concern.
They also contest the equally destructive attitude that if someone else’s actions don’t impact me directly, then I shouldn’t care what they do.
These are pervasive, but false and destructive views.
Should we only care about injustice when it affects us directly? Does upholding human rights only matter when the rights of myself, my family, my church, my (fill in the blank) are hindered?
As Christians, our empathy should be ever-expanding so that we feel for anyone negatively impacted by someone’s improper exercise of their freedoms and rights, even when we don’t feel personally connected or affected.
The Bible consistently emphasizes the importance of the collective good. This focus doesn’t denigrate or diminish the individual and his or her rights, but it refuses to separate them from a larger, corporate focus.
For example, Paul urged that we “do nothing from selfish ambition” and “look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
He cited Jesus as the model for Christians, who rejected the notion that rights and privileges are things to be exploited for personal gain and embraced a humble posture of service (Philippians 2:5-11).
Embodying a lifestyle that focuses on the common good, even if that means limiting how and when we choose to exercise our rights, is also a central point in 1 Corinthians, where Paul challenges libertine practices enacted under the guise of Christian freedom.
Considering what is good for the collective rather than solely what I, as an individual, have the right or freedom to do, is a vital response to the myriad disruptions and divisions we are experiencing locally and globally.
The suggestion of limiting individual rights and freedoms is deemed blasphemy in some circles and is too rare a practice, even among professed Christians.
Yet, it needs to be restored as a central expression of Christianity – for the good not only of the faith but also of the global community.