Letter: We must work together to find common good

From: Richard Gold


My father held a harsh view of humanity.

It was simple. Intelligence and thumbs aside, little separates us from other species on Earth. We display the same primal Darwinian urges for power, domination and continuation of our individual gene pool — a not-so-holy trinity of power, money and sex. It manifests in many ways — control of oil, water and precious resources that give rise to power.

Look no further than the raw barbarism of global terrorism, violent crime and school killings here to know we walk a fine and shrinking line.

What separates humanity is a notion of society and civilization. My father was an international legal scholar. He believed a system of law was our best bet to hold primal urges in check. This system of law is predicated on the notion of common good — that we serve the most people by invoking a structure that guides behavior and punishes primal urges when they hurt others.

This system of law is shaped by governmental bodies in which we vest authority as members of a society governed by law. For Americans, it rests on a remarkable legal foundation called the Constitution, which provides for individual rights and boundaries as citizens.

Other institutions do heavy lifting to fill in gaps — religion, education, institutional rigor, behavioral ritual — elements we might know as values, customs and manners. As we progress further into an era of globalism, the system is based on allies, international law, treaties and the stylized dance of international relations.

The other force that keeps the system on the rails is the truth — often a syndicated view, but achieved only through a free press. This is our strongest check on tyranny and government run amok. It requires a free, but professional journalistic capability where facts are sacred.

The binding glue is an understood common good. The less common we find, the more fractured and weakened the rule of law becomes. An approach of divide and conquer, one built on divisiveness, shrinks the common good until it isn’t common nor good.

Successful partnerships, whether marriage or international treaties, require some subordination of individual good for the common, which binds the relationship.

Today’s America is one of divisiveness — attacking individuals, attacking religions, accepting violence, building walls and disregarding the truth — all critical agents that bind. Internationally we offend our closest neighbors and our longest-serving allies.

We attack the legitimate press and try to undermine it. And the common good, like the common air we breathe, evaporates.

I am reminded of a Lou Holtz quote: “If you burn your neighbor’s house down, it doesn’t make your house look any better.” In fact, it destroys the neighborhood.

A position of strength fails absent the common good. It’s only time. When enough figure out my turn is next, the tides shift. The question is how much damage is done in the meantime.

Let us come to the table with strength. But today’s leadership mandate must be to work harder to find the common good.