October 2021

Public good or public bad

Welcome back to the Academy newsletter! By now those in North America are well into the academic year, with schools being back and universities having assumed lectures. Those in the southern hemisphere have moved into spring and left their colder period behind. But I digress. This month’s little piece will be spent discussing just what is expected of us when we choose to live within a society. The ramifications of this are the essence of being a good citizen, which should help when we make choices that influence people around us. Oxford defines choice as “the act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities”.

Freedom of choice seems to be at the heart of many at this time. They argue that they should be allowed to do whatever they want without paying any negative consequences. Some may call this their “right”. We see this written into many national constitutions; with the enshrinement of a “bill of rights”. Many seem to have forgotten that having a bill of rights isn’t a passport to anyone doing anything but comes with an expectation that all of us also contribute to the society we live within. In other words, rights are earned. Rights without expectation of public good is a recipe for disaster. Whether we come from a group that has been systematically discriminated against; or we operate from a position of power, rights have to come with some obligations. In practical terms this forces all of us to do things that are good for others.

Why mention such esoteric stuff?! Trust in public institutions is at an all time low, with only 18% of citizens across all modern democracies feeling that they can trust their leaders, governments, education/ health systems, or the justice system. It becomes okay to actively campaign against these public institutions; whether by not having a vaccine, not paying taxes, not supporting their projects. Unfortunately, in an ethical sense it isn’t so easy to walk away from public institutions. For example, by not paying taxes you may feel you are able to make a public statement of disgust about how a government leads. In fact all you are doing is compromising public programs that need your funds, and shifting the onus onto other citizens! The same argument can be made for resisting vaccination – all you are doing is shifting the responsibility of developing herd immunity to those around you.

I don’t want to spend another second on COVID, but I do want to have us do some navel gazing about how we stack up when it comes to being good citizens. Do we think its okay to actively denigrate our leaders, or resist anything they do? I ask us to look deeply into our psyche and see whether we have become so mistrustful of our leaders and other public institutions that it has become easy to reject what they ask us to do. It behooves us to examine ourselves and how we make such decisions. If we aren’t able to help our governments/ leaders when their motives and actions are right, it will not be easy for us to maintain balance in our lives.

Have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy the fall, Peter Craighead

2 thoughts on “October 2021

  1. I can really relate to the sentiment of the article. However I live in South Africa where the trust in our leadership has become so undermined by the rampant corruption and rapacious behaviour that they display on a daily basis, essentially depriving the poor and needy of the basic requirements of life, that distrusting the leadership here in South Africa comes very naturally unfortunately.
    Perhaps the correct thing to do is to be a responsible citizen by offering support to leaders who deserve such support without blindly accepting that because they are ‘leaders’ they deserve our blind trust.


    1. Thanks Neil. Our situation in North America isnt as different from yours as you think. If you think that someone like Donald Trump ruled the roost just south of the border for 4 years it is frightening. My blog is simply to say that we have an obligation as citizens to think of others, and do what is right so that they benefit from us. It does also relate to citizens following their leaders, but I suspect there are times when we oughtnt do that.


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