Common Good: Can we still find common ground?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Common Good
Jim Wallis, author photo courtesy of the publisher.

Jim Wallis, author photo courtesy of the publisher.

restoring America’s Common Good sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?

This week, I am inviting you to discuss the conclusions of best-selling author Jim Wallis in his new book: On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good. Also this week, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Jim Wallis about the first half of his new book in which Wallis describes his spiritual inspiration. In OurValues, we’re looking at the second half of the Wallis book, called Practices for the Common Good, in which he outlines nuts-and-bolts ideas for reaching this goal.

HERE is the problem Wallis sees: “We’ve lost our civility, the ability to have public discussion that isn’t harsh or dismissive.” What we need, he argues, is a commitment to an ancient idea: the Common Good. It is “the best way to find common ground with other people—even with those who don’t agree with us or share our faith commitments.” Wallis is a public theologian and overall editor of Sojourners magazine. The title of his new book comes from Lincoln’s famous remark, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

I hope you’ll add a comment today on our first question this week: Can we still find common ground so that we can begin to talk? Consider these responses.

FIRST, Jim Wallis offers this insight: Neither liberals nor conservatives have all the answers; in fact, they each have half an answer. The Common Good requires what he calls “the two best big ideas of conservatism and liberalism.” These are personal responsibility, a defining theme among conservatives, and social responsibility, a rallying cry among liberals. We are responsible for ourselves and our families—and we are responsible for others broadly defined. “I believe that both conservative and liberal insights and commitments are necessary for it to exist,” Wallis writes.

SECOND, my own research over many years shows that Americans share a surprising number of core values. These are values agreed upon by large majorities of Americans over a long period of time. Later this year I will be releasing a book-length exploration of these core values for small-group discussion. Think about the refreshing power of this idea. Rather than endlessly arguing about hot-button issues, discussion groups could start by discussing core values on which Americans agree. Among the 10 core values in my own upcoming book are: Equal Opportunities, which I summarized in an earlier column; Freedom to fully participate in political decisions; and Respect for people of different racial and ethnic groups.

Could these ideas help us find a common ground to start talking?

How do you define the Common Good?

Please, read along with us all this week as we discuss more of Jim Wallis’s ideas for reviving the Common Good. And, please, add a thoughtful comment, below. We will ask Jim Wallis to stop by and look over our discussion mid-week.

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Categories: Respect

Common Good: Feeling “politically homeless”?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Common Good

OurValues Cover of Jim Wallis On Gods SideOur politics are driven by a curious psychological dynamic, as I described in my book, America’s Crisis of Values. Liberals and conservatives take the position that their side is right and the other wrong. Only when the other side is eliminated will “goodness” prevail. Believing this, each side digs in and conflict escalates to the point where nothing good can be accomplished.

Does all this leave you feeling “politically homeless?”

“Politically homeless” is a phrase Jim Wallis uses in his new book On God’s Side when he discusses political paralysis around the issue of ending poverty, but the phrase applies widely. Politically homeless is the feeling we have when we observe political polarization and the assumption that we have to accept one side’s view or the other side’s view.

How about the common ground?

What are the two sides on poverty? Wallis describes the liberal-conservative split this way: When analyzing poverty, conservatives stress the “cultural factors that can cause and further entrench poverty in regard to weak family structures, educational performance, work habits and experience, or substance abuse; and they observe that having children outside of marriage is a huge factor in creating and sustaining poverty. Liberals stress the policy matters and the need for well-paying jobs, better education, quality child care, stable housing, and affordable health care.”

Usually these positions are presented as a choice: We must accept one position or the other, but not both. “But,” say Wallis, “why are we forced to choose between these two agendas? Why is it either/or? Why not both/and?” Politically homeless is how he and others feel when they observe the either/or debate but know the answer is both/and. Each side has part of the solution; together, they are the solution

What about you—do you feel politically homeless?

Do you agree there are essentially two choices?

What would a common ground solution look like?

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Categories: Getting Ahead

Common Good: Is Little League baseball the answer?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The Common Good
Little League Baseball game photo by Ed Yourdon released into Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Little League by Ed Yourdon, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

How do we find the common good?

Jim Wallis, in his new book On God’s Side, says that we have lost sight of the common good—but we can find it again. “The common good and the quality of our life together,” he argues, “will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make.”

What are those personal decisions? Wallis offers ten personal decisions in his book. Today, I focus on the first one.

He tells a warm and touching story about how it plays out in Little League baseball with his sons. Here’s how he describes the decision: “If you are a father or mother, make your children the most important priority in your life and build your other commitments around them. If you are not a parent, look for children who could benefit from your investment in their lives.”

And, here’s how that advice plays out on the baseball diamond. Wallis has two sons, and has coached both of their Little Leagues teams. “It has been a father-son bond that will always be with us.” He recalls with fondness that day his older son’s team won the AAA championship, and his son wanted to go back to the field to do some more pitching. It was too dark, so Wallis suggested that they “take a slow walk around the four diamonds that compose our Friendship Field, touching home plate at each one.” And so they did, discussing the game and the great season they had.

“It was very dark when we touched the last home plate, and we could see the lights on at our house; my ten-year-old son looked up into my eyes and quietly said, ‘Thanks, I love you Dad.’ It was one of those moments you remember for the rest of your life as a father. And, for us, baseball has provided that kind of bond.”

Is Little League baseball the answer? It’s not the answer, but it is one answer to the personal decisions parents (and parental figures) can make. Maybe it’s not baseball for you, or even any sport—it could be chess, hiking, music, building things, camping trips, sailing, or any of countless ways in which we can invest in our own children and our community’s children.

What personal decisions do you make that foster the common good?

What’s your equivalent to Little League baseball?

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Categories: Self-Reliance

Common Good: Servant government?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series The Common Good
The Internal Revenue Service speaks of balance and fairness. The question this spring is: Did the IRS lose its balance?

The Internal Revenue Service logo speaks of balance and fairness. The question this spring is: Did the IRS lose its balance?

What’s the purpose of government?

The purpose, says Jim Wallis in his new book On God’s Side is twofold: to protect its people and to promote the good of society. Good government, Wallis says, “needs to play the important and modest role of servant.”

Does the news about IRS targeting of conservative groups or the seizure of journalists’ telephone and email records make you wonder about the role that government is actually playing? Three-quarters (74%) of Americans say that IRS targeting of conservative groups is inappropriate, according to just-released poll results. Over half (56%) say it was a deliberate attempt to harass conservative organizations. The ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by Langer Research Associates on May 16-19.

A majority (54%) also says that the government is doing more to threaten individual rights than to protect these rights. Democrats and Republicans sharply disagree on this point, however with only 31% of Democrats saying that the government is doing more to threaten individual rights, while 71% of Republicans say the same.

Wallis argues that, ultimately, preserving and promoting the common good comes down to the personal decisions we make. What does he recommend in the political sphere?

Here is his recommendation: “Get to know who your political representatives are at both the local and national level. Study their policy decisions and examine their moral compass and public leadership. Make your public convictions and commitments known to them and choose to hold them accountable.”

What’s your opinion of the IRS targeting of conservative groups or the seizure of journalists’ telephone and email records?

Do you know your local and national political representatives?

Is “servant government” just an ideal—or can it be realized?

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Categories: Critical Patriotism

Common Good: What breaks your heart?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series The Common Good
This photo of a homeless woman, trying to raise what she can by selling sugar cane, was released by a social-justice group to raise awareness via Wikimedia Commons.

This photo of a homeless woman, trying to raise what she can by selling sugar cane, was released by a social-justice group to raise awareness on poverty issues. Shared for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

“Ask yourself what in the world today most breaks your heart and offends your sense of justice,” writes Jim Wallis in On God’s Side. “Decide to help change that—join with others who are committed to transforming this injustice.”

Ultimately, our quest for the common good begins with fresh motivation. That energy may come, Wallis argues, from a question like: What breaks your heart?

This week, we’re discussing Wallis’s latest book. We’ve covered how the common good requires the best big ideas of liberalism and conservatism, how many Americans feel “politically homeless” in the face of our polarized politics, how personal decisions (like coaching Little League baseball) is one way to find common ground, and the concept of servant government.

Wallis argues that we’ve lost sight of the common good, but all is not lost: We can still find the common good and preserve it. One way is to acknowledge that we still have common ground. As we’ve discussed in various ways before, Americans are united by 10 core values. The discovery that Americans are still united by core values is one of the main reasons I founded OurValues.org.

Each of us can play a part in building the common ground.

Ultimately, Wallis says, preserving and promoting the common good comes down to the personal decisions we make. At the end of his book, he offers a list of 10 such decisions. We’ve discussed some of them this week. Today, we end with his question about what breaks your heart and what you can do about it.

What in the world today most breaks your heart?

What offends your sense of justice?

Who around you feels the same way?

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Categories: Equal Opportunities