For the Common Good


A few phrases caught my eye in an article by Colin Irvine, a Fulbright Roving scholar, who is spending the 2010-11 academic year in Norway.  In the May issue of Viking Magazine, Irvine first talks about some of the philosophies of the Norwegian people: “…equality, mutual respect and concern for the common good.” 

I liked this (without having to click a thumbs up button), because it’s what companies on every “best companies to work for” list seem to provide their employees.  When each of us feels that we can contribute, put forth our ideas and build our companies through our efforts, we feel productive and valued.  It must work for Norwegians, as the country is always among the top locations of the “best places to live” and “happiest country” polls.

Yet this is the opposite of what our political system of late has been providing for us as citizens.  As the presidential race starts to heat up, candidates are becoming more and more devisive; seemingly vying for personal power and power for their lobbies, not for the common good.

As I reflect back on what I experienced living in Norway, I remember that the unifying feeling of the common good superceded individuality.  It was better to not to stand out from the crowd.   Irvine noted in his article that students are reticent to speak up for fear of showing that they know more than other students.  They prefer to sit back and blend into the class.  This was my experience as well at the university level.  Yet, as a result, there are few examples of “outstanding” individuals in modern Norway.  Sports seemed to me to be the only exception to the rule, where I can name a few real stars who hail from the land up north.

By contrast, American students are encouraged to stand apart and show themselves as individuals.  On social media, adults converse endlessly about personal brands.  I, too, have been a loud advocate for product differentiation and point-of-difference in brand marketing.  We all remember how good it felt to be unified after 9-11 with a common cause.  Yet, that unity faded quickly and we returned to our individualistic needs.  And why is it good to be a cheerleader within our organizations with “we” being the core entity, while simoultaneously striving for personal recognition that boosts us head and shoulders above our work teams?

Which leads to the question–which is better?  An egalitarian approach to the common good, or a focus that caters to individual’s needs, which builds a greater good?  I guess it depends on where you ask the question: Norway or the U.S.

What are your thoughts?

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