Commonalities shape desire

to work for common good

Sharon Daloz Parks and Laurent Parks Daloz are a husband and wife team who have spent their careers investigating how people shape and sustain a significant commitment to the common good-and how a new way of thinking about the common good can impact others.

As part of the "People Making a Difference" series sponsored by the Ethics Center, Parks and Daloz talked about their research and overall conclusions as they interviewed those who have made extraordinary contributions to the common good in today's world. Their findings have been published in a new book, Common Fire: Lives of Commitment in a Complex World.

"We are asked to live in a time that has unprecedented conditions and challenges, much like the Renaissance," Parks said. "Understandably, we are collectively stressed.

"In this context, a natural response is to retreat," she continued. "People decide to care for me and mine, living out their lives the best they can while hoping someone else takes care of the big picture."

Parks defined what she and Daloz meant by common good-and whose common good it was. Using the image of a commons-be it a town hall meeting in New England or a grain elevator in North Dakota-Parks said people in the past had places "with a sense of many factions and a common life people had to work it out together.

"The new commons is divided by an economic reality we are only beginning to grasp," she said, mentioning the challenges of the global marketplace.

Thus, in their studies they asked the question: What does it mean to become committed to the common good instead of me and mine? They discovered that each interviewee had an individual story, but had "deep patterns underlying each of their lives."

Daloz said the single most important finding in their research in looking at these patterns focused on the subjects' "constructive engagement with others each person committed to a common good experienced and described a number of different experiences where they made a connection with someone different from themselves and found them to be a common human being," Daloz said.

The words tribe and tribalism are an important part of understanding these interactions, he said. While the words may have unsavory or uncivilized connotations, Daloz used the word tribe to identify those who may belong to a group involving gender, ethnicity or tradition. However, "the virtue of the tribe as a source of identity may be toxic people may begin to see it as the normal way of being," he said. "When the rules become different for 'them' and 'us,' then we become firmly embedded in trappings of tribalism," said Daloz, and cannot cross boundaries for meaningful interaction.

"Each of us is unique, but it is possible to connect across tribes," he said. "To do this on campuses or in larger communities, near proximity is not enough. People need activities that will bring them together and create dialogue we must move beyond mere political correctness [to] work together to build a community."

Those committed to a common good move past their meaningful external experiences with others, Park said, internalizing what they'd learned in order to provide a sense of self.

Basically, these people not only had critical thinking skills, but also a way of realizing the connections and interdependencies of their personal decisions, Parks said. "Those able to sustain a commitment to the common good not only have dialogues with those other than themselves, but also a dialogue within," she explained. An "ongoing practice of confession and forgiveness" leads to a meaningful interior life, she said.

Daloz, expanding on this point, said that the capacity to hear different voices leads to three specific paradoxes in those committed to a common good: those of time, place and self. When Daloz interviewed people, asking why they do what they do, many answered with a double negative in affirming their reasons. "I can't not do it. I can't not act," Daloz said they told him. "It wasn't their choice not to make a choice, and it wasn't idealism-it was just a recognition of the deeper reality of human interdependence."

-Danielle Service

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