By Molly Brown
The third in the series of articles inspired by Pope Francis’ Encyclical, “On Care for Our Common Home.”
Let’s consider the idea of the “common good,” which used to be a foundation for our collective actions, but is largely ignored today in favor of profit and personal ambition.
Pope Francis writes, “Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics. The common good is the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment” (156).
He points out that the common good includes future generations—they, too, are part of our human commons. “Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others” (159).
Today’s timeline tends to focus on the next quarter’s profit margin, rather than the welfare of our grandchildren and beyond. It seems increasingly difficult to take the time and effort to consider how our actions will affect the generations to come. However, “we need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us” (160).
Pope Francis asserts that “rampant individualism” and a “self-centered culture of instant gratification” are at the root of our ignoring the common good. Moreover, “a politics concerned with immediate results… is driven to produce short-term growth. In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment” (178).
Our global economic and climate situation leaves most of us feeling unstable and uncertain, which Pope Francis believes engenders collective selfishness. We think we must first look out for old Number One. Yet, “when people become self-centered and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears” (204).
However, the Pope also asserts, “We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other… Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society” (208).
Here in Siskiyou County, we are fortunate to live in small towns; when we go to the post office or the local grocery, we encounter people we know personally and share information about local concerns. In this atmosphere, it is easier to build a sense of community and caring for others. Our small towns have turned out many times to support our neighbors in need.
In the challenging and uncertain times ahead, however, we will need to come together even more strongly to safeguard the common good: our air, water, soil, and ecosystems, our common sources of food and other necessities, and our democratic processes.
After all, “inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good… together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life” (225).

By Molly Brown The third in the series of articles inspired by Pope Francis’ Encyclical, “On Care for Our Common Home.” Let’s consider the idea of the “common good,” which used to be a foundation for our collective actions, but is largely ignored today in favor of profit and personal ambition. Pope Francis writes, “Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics. The common good is the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment” (156). He points out that the common good includes future generations—they, too, are part of our human commons. “Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others” (159). Today’s timeline tends to focus on the next quarter’s profit margin, rather than the welfare of our grandchildren and beyond. It seems increasingly difficult to take the time and effort to consider how our actions will affect the generations to come. However, “we need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us” (160). Pope Francis asserts that “rampant individualism” and a “self-centered culture of instant gratification” are at the root of our ignoring the common good. Moreover, “a politics concerned with immediate results… is driven to produce short-term growth. In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment” (178). Our global economic and climate situation leaves most of us feeling unstable and uncertain, which Pope Francis believes engenders collective selfishness. We think we must first look out for old Number One. Yet, “when people become self-centered and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears” (204). However, the Pope also asserts, “We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other… Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society” (208). Here in Siskiyou County, we are fortunate to live in small towns; when we go to the post office or the local grocery, we encounter people we know personally and share information about local concerns. In this atmosphere, it is easier to build a sense of community and caring for others. Our small towns have turned out many times to support our neighbors in need. In the challenging and uncertain times ahead, however, we will need to come together even more strongly to safeguard the common good: our air, water, soil, and ecosystems, our common sources of food and other necessities, and our democratic processes. After all, “inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good… together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life” (225).