On Our Common Good: on Common Ground?

April 14th, 2015

On Our Common Good: on Common Ground?

As the Hurtado Jesuit Centre begins the first in a series of topical dicussions, many will be asking how can the theme of the Common Good be relevantly applied. Isn’t it already obvious that doing good is common sense? Is the Common Good not what everyone wants? Perhaps too abstract to be meaningful?

To bring about a lively discussion, Dr Patrick Riordan SJ from Heythrop College was invited to speak on the evening of 24th Mar 2015. Pat asked us three simple questions that help define concepts on the Common Good.

First, Who are we? This is best understood as, who do I, as an individual, represent? Using a football analogy, we may all be Arsenal supporters. In a stadium, we would all behave in a certain way to support our team to win. And thus our links to relationships, our work, affiliations to political parties, religious groups, the environment, place of birth, residence and nationalities will also define us.

Second, what is our business? Depending on the responses to the first question, this involves various undertakings. Perhaps conflicts of interests may already be evident within individuals, and between neighboring communities. Competition for resources, all the more poignant in the age of austerity and with the forthcoming elections, this will affect how we go about minding our business for the Common Good. Should businesses be focused towards profit making for shareholders? Do companies need to outcompete each other? What are the implications of competitive practices?

Third, how do we go about minding own business? What role does the rule of law have? Here, Pat noted there may be unintended consequences of the law and governance. In trying to meet targets set by health authorities, A&E victims may have longer waiting times in an ambulance car park. To protect national security, governments may sieve through vast amounts of internet traffic, potentially infringing individuals’ freedom of speech and privacy.

The audience was mixed. There were local residents, community leaders, charity partners, parishioners, social entrepreneurs and retired folk, from Catholic, Christian, Muslim and Humanist backgrounds, from Wapping, Tower Hamlets London’s East End and beyond, even Preston. Undoubtedly, individual and cultural experiences make up one’s understanding of the Common Good and how these goods are defined. Therefore, one suggestion was to define a common space where these ideas could develop, through discussion. Also, that existing common values and regard already present between communities should not be taken for granted.

As the Hurtado Centre seeks to exercise both spiritual and social values in serving the local community, many socio-economic, political and cultural issues are evident. Being aware and learning to bring these into a public space is one step. Following challenge is in asking, discerning and seeking about our business of doing the Common Good in different ways to different groups within communities, and to those without a community. Deeply embedded within Catholic social thinking is the need to preserve human dignity, see Godliness in each person, and in promoting social justice.

Julian Ng is a volunteer at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre.

Dates for future conversations on the Common Good will appear on our What’s On page.