“That which is not good for the beehive cannot be good for the bees” (Marcus Aurelius).
THE CONCEPT OF “COMMONWEALTH” IS ONE OF THE MOST BENEFICIAL IDEAS WE CAN HOLD IN OUR MINDS. Our word “wealth” comes from the Old English wela, or “weal,” which meant prosperity or happiness. Originally, “weal” (the opposite of “woe”) referred to general well-being, not just to riches, and so the common “weal” or “wealth” was the good of the community, the conditions in which, together, the members of a society were able to enjoy the peaceful blessings of life. A government or nation could be described as a commonwealth if it existed for the common good of its citizens — and, more importantly, if the citizens themselves were committed to the common good and not just to their own individual interests.
All of us are connected to other people. We are members of many groups: families, neighborhoods, organizations, cities, and states, to name only a few. We are communal creatures by nature, and we thrive on relationships. Yet while most of us know our connections are important, we need to ask ourselves how deeply we’re committed to the principle of commonwealth. When it comes down to it, can we be counted on to seek the common good? If the people we’re connected to would be damaged by our getting what we want, is it certain that we’ll sacrifice our wants in order to protect the shared benefit?
Words like “community” and “family” engender welcome feelings in our hearts. But we need a commitment to our connections that goes beyond feelings. Whatever groups we’re privileged to be a part of, we need to serve those groups with a sense of personal responsibility to the “commonwealth.” The good life comes not to those who take whatever they want, but to those who show their gratitude for membership in the human race. And good relationships are built by people who value them enough to nurture them. When the common good is not served unselfishly, it soon becomes the common evil.
Whoever wishes to assert his will as a member of a community must not only consent to obey the will of the community but bear his share in serving it.
“As he is to profit by the safety and prosperity the community provides, so he must seek its good and place his personal will at its disposal” (James Bryce).