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The concept of the ‘Common Good’ has been written about for over 2000 years, from Aristotle and Cicero. Social Justice Ireland roots its understanding of the concept of ‘Common Good’ in “the fact that the person develops their potential in the context of society where the needs and rights of all members and groups are respected”. As demographics and socio-political landscapes on the island of Ireland are changing, are we leaving some people behind?
On Saturday June 22nd, we delivered an event that explored some key themes around the ‘Common Good’, to draw out the issues and concerns of people across the island of Ireland and to generate what we hoped would be a helpful public discussion on how we might face the uncertainty of the future together with a sense of hope and a commitment to living well together as neighbours and/or country men and women.
In the morning we had two panel discussions, the first with a Northern Ireland focus and the second with an all Ireland focus followed by Q & A.  In the afternoon we held a World Café Dialogue session. The following is Eamon Rafter’s brief summary of the main points that arose from the table conversations:
Compilation of Key Insights
What is important about the concept of the Common Good and why do you care?
  • Common Good means and implies different things. Not a new concept
  • Is it about social good?
  • Danger that compromises involved might reduce it to low level of good
  • It’s the ‘good’ we hold in common.
  • What do we hold in common?
  • Everyone contributes and can benefit
  • Requires a common language and needs to also be bottom up
  • It involves civic governance and common aspects of culture and should be non-sectarian
  • We have a personal obligation to engage with common good.
  • Women have found common ground. They need a voice and need to be heard
  • Let’s talk about shared/common purpose rather than a shared/agreed/united Ireland
  • If we view it as an island community, it’s a better way of moving forward
  • We need to be clear about our deep values
  • It requires empathy
  • It involves challenging inequality, public services & access to health care
  • A set of conditions that allows everyone to thrive
  • If there’s a common good there must also be a common bad.
  • This could be a starting point to move forward
  • It may involve difficult conversations to realise it
  • We need to respect the views of others and have an open mind
  • Common good does not deny differences.
  • There is a social impact in what we do that we share
  • Individualism and narrow short term interests against the common good
  • We do not have a planet B so sharing this one for common good
What is emerging that is new for you & what connections are you making?
  • Ways to promote collective not just self-interest
  • Climate change requires action and new urgency about this
  • We can’t dump our problems onto the next generation
  • Open conversation needed re. the future of island of Ireland
  • The dialogue needs to be ongoing not about ‘fixing’
  • Safe Places for conversation important (or at least ‘safer’ places)
  • While we hold things in common we can have greater respect for difference
  • Inclusive planning and decision making necessary for communities to move on
  • Civic society can take back control but it has been hollowed out
  • Be aware that social media can polarise
  • Work to build trust and relationships
  • Don’t dwell on negatives
  • Importance of de-labelling and not making assumptions based on labels
  • Avoid the scapegoat trap
  • Concept of ‘De-weaponising’
  • We need to hear excluded, marginalised voices and listen deeply to their message
  • Envisioning common future can be at the expense of the past
  • Deaths by suicide need to be connected to past
What would it take to create change towards finding the Common Good?
  • We need to hold our politicians accountable and we need political leadership
  • Explore new ways of working together
  • Engage with people who think differently
  • Leadership needs to be charismatic and ethical
  • Women have key role as leaders
  • We can start small and work up to a bigger scale
  • We need to create a civic forum
  • Shared inclusive future needs truth and reconciliation
  • Dialogue mechanisms that can continue to embrace social changes
  • Common good needs ownership by civil society
  • Willingness and honesty needed
  • Non-threatening environments to engage in
  • Greater compassion and empathy
  • Empowered communities working together
  • Need to address fragmentation of society
  • Address privatisation of social services
  • Solidarity across generations
  • Alternatives to short-termism and reactive politics
  • Education has key role
  • Future thinking and visioning
  • Valuing everyone
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Preliminary Questions
  • Deep divisions in society do exist and need to be understood but we need to move beyond them. This requires a vision of the future. What kind of society would we like to live in?
  • What does the concept of Common Good have to offer us now given its not new?
  • What does it mean in the context of divided society?
  • What are the key principles that underpin this concept?
  • Is it contextual or universal?
  • What are the challenges/critique to the idea of the common good?
  • What can peace education do to envision and help bring it in to being?
‘In deeply divided societies, where fractured relations continue to impede building a peaceful society for the good of all who live in it, revitalising the understanding of the common good becomes even more pertinent’. Cathy Bollaert
‘The common good is, at heart an ethical call to action or standard for human responsibility’. Patrick Millar & Dennis McCann
‘The common good is public justice.  The responsibility of civic society for this is to remind, hold accountable and engage with elected politicians that especially in a differentiated, plural and contested society public  justice is a political responsibility and imperative’ Johnston Mc Master
Key Principles Underpinning Common Good (Cathy Bollaert)
  • HUMAN DIGNITY: Every human life worthy of respect
  • INTERCONNECTEDNESS: We are interconnected as humans and we depend on each other
  • SOLIDARITY: Compassion and empathy. Working for the good of all
  • CIVIC PARTICIPATION: Taking an active role in society both formally and informally
Challenges to common good
‘Creating the common good is an immense challenge for both political and civic society. There are forces of resistance such as sectarianism, hate, an unforgiven and unforgiving past, cultural, political and religious gatekeepers.’   Johnston Mc Master
‘There are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity and to deny a common destiny.’ Walter Brueggemann
Challenges include:
  • Suspicion due to political and religious abuse of term
  • Diversity seen as a threat rather than something that enriches society
  • ‘Tolerant Co-existence’ (where tolerance may contradict interconnectedness)
  • Individualism – Individual freedom prized over equality and connection
  • Legacy of the past and how the past is commemorated
  • Perception that in trying to please everyone we end up without substance
 Educating and working for common good:
  • Envisioning & learning together. Building relationships, trust & interconnectedness through dialogue and collaboration
  • Not just about addressing and acknowledging the past hurts and truth seeking. Need for ethical sharing of narratives and addressing/healing of trauma for better future
  • Creating multiple safe spaces where difference is explored positively so that it may be valued not feared. Common good needs to acknowledge and support difference also.
  • Identifying commonality and building on it. Using unifying symbols and cultural practices. Meeting needs of all.
  • Supporting integrated ‘living well together’ so it becomes the norm
  • Promoting moving beyond binary politics. Living in diverse communities (Not two)
  • Developing and applying models of integrated education and living
  • Deepening social inclusion for minorities and giving voice to excluded
Conclusions: Common Good and Common Security
  • Need for changed mindset to explore and advance ‘human security’
  • Idea of common good asks ‘What allows us to live well together in safety?’
  • Defensive/militarised mindsets create less safety
  • We can’t be secure at the expense of others or the planet
  • Meeting our human and planetary needs makes us more secure
  • Interdependence is about achieving security without use of force
  • No-one is safe until we are all safe.
  • Working for common good means building common security.
  • Building communities of dignity, accountability and responsibility
  • Building culture of peace by peaceful means is the only way to real security

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