I was speaking about the Boston Marathon to some friends who told me that you can qualify to run in the marathon if you fulfill one of two conditions. Either, you run the 26.2 miles within a certain time. Or, you run for some charitable cause. In other words, the organizers are telling runners that you can run in the Boston Marathon if you have a cause even if you are not fast enough. In other words, the spirit of the marathon is all about the common good. It is so tragic that someone would use that event to wreak such carnage on innocent people.
Around the country we are all relieved and happy that the nightmare is more or less over. However, for those who lost their lives or for those who were maimed or wounded, the nightmare will continue. The days following the bombings the people of Boston have shown great courage and phenomenal caring. The tragedy brought out the best in people.
As soon as the bombs exploded, first ran towards the site of the explosion rather than away. People helped each other to get up. Strangers hugged and comforted one another. A woman invited strangers into her home and served them breakfast. A man brought coffee and served it to people who sat dazed on the pavement. Today groups of young people were offering free hugs. On the news I saw young children offering a sandwich to a policeman. All these acts of kindness made us aware that we are one nation, one community, one family. We were able to set aside our political and ideological differences and come together as one people.
I certainly feel uplifted by these manifestations of extraordinary heroism and compassion. But then I wonder…Why does it take a tragedy to make us aware of our sense of community? Why do we care about each other in such a profound way only in these sad moments? Why can’t we care about each other all the time? Why do we get bogged down by our differences in personal opinions and political leanings?
It is my personal conviction – I could be wrong here – that in our everyday life we are too self-absorbed to notice others. Our market culture feeds our tendency to self-absorption, and our innate lethargy gets the better of us. In recent decades most of us have been inducted into the “Me Generation,” much to our detriment and to the loss of communal sense. As psychologist Jean M. Twenge, the author of an insightful book, Generation Me, writes in her conclusion: “The first change we must make is to abandon our obsession with self-esteem. Instead of creating welladjusted, happy children, the self-esteem movement has created an army of little narcissists.”
Unfortunately our consumer-driven market culture seduces into thinking that we belong to certain communities just because we bought a particular product or adopted a particular technology. Those are what I call “pseudocommunities” that do not make any demands on the individual except that he/she spends his/her money. On the other hand, authentic communities call for self-sacrifice and generosity. To belong to an authentic community we must abide by her rules and respect the other members of that community.
As citizens of our great country, we need to inculcate in ourselves and in our children a passion for the common good. We need to care about each other not only during times of tragedy, but always. We need to emphasize our common heritage as Americans not only when an outside (or inside) enemy threatens our security. We should not allow our political and ideological differences to make us lose sight of our common history and tradition. As Pope John XXIII used say, “We should dwell on what unites us rather than what separates us.”
Our faith enables us to pursue the common good more readily because we recognize all people as God’s children. We take Jesus seriously when He said: “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.” Jonathan Sacks, a Jewish rabbi from the UK, offers relevant words in this regard. He says: “Religion creates community, community creates altruism and altruism turns us away from self and towards the common good... There is something about the tenor of relationships within a religious community that makes it the best tutorial in citizenship and good neighborliness.”
Let us pray that Christians all over this country will lead the charge to care about the common good. In our own neighborhoods, let us create a sense of community.