In search of the common good

Jose M. Montelibano

It would seem unbelievable that the Filipino people, whose very culture is centered in bayanihan, a most beautiful collective, communal spirit, would end up being confused about the common good. Oh, we still have bayanihan in spurts as though our DNA remembers what our conscious mind and present-day habits have forgotten. But bayanihan as a defining trait of the Filipino is simply absent in day to day life.

I wonder how bayanihan developed in our native setting when we did not yet have democracy when our traditional datu system meant a truly authoritarian system. With a one-man rule in their respective communities over millennia, why did the native Filipino prosper enough to have little or no trace of violence as a way of life, little or no trace of hunger, but all linger evidence pointing to a productive, hospitable, fun-loving yet prayerful people? How can authority be centralized in a person yet maintain the collective well-being?

Actually, centralized authority or power is not a hindrance to a happy, prosperous society. Otherwise, any notion of God would not fly if people have no understanding whatsoever about well-being inside a centrally-ruled environment.  After God being all-powerful is the family where the father, mother or both hold the central authority for all children and other household members. The fundamental stages of human development are skewed towards a centralized form of authority. Therefore, those who have had good experiences with their own childhood and growing up environment understand that a paternal or maternal form of governance can work. Not only that because the same will be replicated when children become adults and begin their own families.

Why is it, then, that more societies than not either shy away or resist authoritarian rule? The answer appears to be obvious – the quality of the leader. The quality of the leader determines whether the style of governance is beneficial or detrimental – and there can be a broad spectrum in between. If the leader loves the people and country he leads, if the leader is clear about the principles of freedom and justice, if the leader is intelligent enough to understand human nature and human behavior, the leader will succeed under a dictatorship, a monarchy or a democracy. Easier if more authoritarian than a leader will democracy but, yes, the leader will succeed. A good father or mother who wishes to see the son or daughter grow up healthy and strong in a safe and productive environment will do everything to make it happen. And then bless the child when it is his or her time to fly.

This desire for the well-being of one’s children is common among parents. It can, then, form a crucial part of the common good. The well-being of children begins at home but naturally and inevitably expands to the environment outside the home. Therefore, that environment must be kept secure, productive and thriving to create a welcoming atmosphere for continuous human development. The foundation of love, freedom, and justice establishes the firmest parameters of a society that is healthy and happy. In many countries around the world, good leaders in continuity have brought their societies to become the most productive, the most caring, the happiest. If we look at their respective histories, we will find a rich variety of leadership styles and forms of government. But they will have something in common – and that is the common good having the highest value.

Filipinos must try to learn to accept the primacy of the common good. Simple as this sounds, it is not simple to do. A history of exploitation by a few and the marginalization of the many has created a playing field full of suspicion and the tendency to take advantage of one another. The poor are forced by circumstance to put their short-term needs against investing in a more solid future. The rich, believe it or not, are not that much different if we review how visionary our elite have been. Somehow, the overall environment of taking what one can when opportunity strikes denies society of looking forward to the next 50 years. If we cannot invest in building, not only infrastructure but the consciousness of development according to the signs of the times, a rapidly changing world will leave us far behind.

The sad thing is that while we are being left behind, our societal life will be more challenging than satisfying. When the common good is not clear or primordial in our collective life, then every day will be a battlefield to get what one can in an environment of scarcity for many and extreme wealth for a few. This extreme inequality does not last long, strangely not only because of this material opposites but because the inequality naturally expands to injustice in many other forms. Once exploitation works for some, they cannot stop themselves with just accumulating wealth. They will expect more advantages in societal life; they will buy it and they will get it.

It is the leader himself or herself, that must see the bigger importance of the community or nation within all members have to live, survive, and thrive. The small good must find its place in the greater good. Collision courses must be avoided, and compromise from shared respect of the common good must become a natural strategy. If the leader knows the way, leads it, and proves that way is beneficial, followers will taste, understand, and maintain the common good.

It is true that our fractiousness makes a collective effort towards the common good an elusive reality. Yet, we have no choice but to seek unity. We must learn how to be free and just – simultaneously. The form of governance and the style of leadership may matter but only when they work to bring us closer to understanding the common good. It is worth sacrificing for. Ours has been a long Lenten journey. It’s time to find our Easter.

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