As COVID-19 continues to ravage humanity both near and far, a general truth again takes center stage: We progress when we intentionally pursue the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people—especially when such efforts emphasize protecting and lifting up our most vulnerable; we quickly lose ground whenever we prioritize self-interest, special interests and tribalism.
Granted, distinction between “greater good” and special interest isn't always clear. In fact, one of our most common—and most destructive—pitfalls is mistaking the latter for the former: believing that one's individual or group preference is society’s best option.
Fortunately, all of us can avoid this well-worn trap by applying the following simple tests: Does a belief or policy have an “us vs. them” component? Are proponents perceived to be (or are actually) rewarded and/or are others similarly penalized? Are any of humankind’s/society’s sub-groupings viewed (by a belief system or policy) as more/less worthy or important?
If the answer is “yes” to any of those, be certain that such beliefs/policies, whenever applied widely, only serve to sustain the conflicts and self-sabotage that have plagued humans for millennia. Long-lasting, universal advancement requires “no” to all.
Meanwhile, “greater good” doesn’t mean that everyone always benefits exactly equally, or that no one will ever feel disadvantaged. Trade-offs—sometimes complicated—are often necessary. Nevertheless, rather than relying almost entirely on our daily, self-absorbed, close-up perspective (and/or long-entrenched beliefs), a wide-angle world view usually reveals the clear best path.
COVID-19 is harshly reminding us that we’re all part of the same interconnected, interdependent, inseparable web—where self-interest and special interests ultimately harm everyone, while subverting others is simply harm to oneself. Therefore, instead of endless “us/them” prejudice and disintegration, step back and see your role in humankind’s evolution as part of a forever-expanding bucket brigade, conveying gradual, continuous, enduring gains for all.
Jeremy Fryberger, Ketchum