America is a nation that has elevated individualism, the belief that all values, rights and duties focus on self-reliance and personal independence. Do we have a responsibility to the greater good? Does our right to act for our personal good carry responsibilities for the greater good? And how do we decide what is the greater good?
The news has been full of Edward Snowden and his disclosure of the National Security Agency’s monitoring programs. These programs, initiated under former President George Bush’s administration, came after the horrors of 9/11. The database of telephone and other records was designed to combat terrorism and aid in counterintelligence.
We saw its success when the Boston marathon bombers were quickly nabbed. Cameras mounted on buildings, phone calls and other records quickly discovered them. These young men believed their actions were appropriate for what they individually decided was the greater good.
Dan Brown’s new book, “Inferno,” tells a complicated story of intrigue. A person decided he knew the greater good. He acted upon his belief and premise, and his actions affect the future of all mankind.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spilled U.S. secrets because he believed the greater good is in truth, even if that truth is harmful. Both Snowden and Assange decided the greater good consisted of their choice. They told secrets even if real harm followed.
When does individual freedom to choose become restrained by the common good? Are there limitations on our individual actions versus the public benefit? Is our focus as a society only on self? Or do we care about family, neighbors, city, town, state and country?
Whether you believe these men acted in the common interests or their own, the decision is complicated. Cameras focus on us as we shop, our emails are loaded with ads and junk, bills come with locations and amounts. We actually are rarely hidden, but we are surprised that little privacy remains.
Individualism, self-reliance and personal independence conflicts with the sense of common purpose and public spirit. The Great Recession, rising unemployment, homelessness, ecological disasters -- storms, flood, fires -- challenge us to take a good look at ourselves.
When does individual freedom to choose become restrained by the common good? What are the limitations on individual actions? When is the need to act for the good of the public rather than our own?
We can’t solve the problems of the world, but perhaps we can give care to the common good and the pursuit of the good in common.
Many people have contributed to the Crisis Center and for the children and youths whose future is made better through our services. After all, the future will be in their hands and, ultimately, affects us all.