What Is the Common Good, Who Controls It, and Why Is It Difficult to Define?

Nurturing harmony: exploring the fragile essence of the common good.

Darren Stehle


Photo by Volkan Olmez / Unsplash

How can we define a common good for all people while cultivating and accepting differences?

Let’s start with what the common good is not about.

The common good is not a fairy tale or a classic story of good triumphing over evil. The common good is more like a steady stream, gradually eroding obstacles that lay naturally in its path. It doesn’t seek balance between good and bad, but rather explores the space in between.

Have You Ever Heard of the “Common Bad”?

As an expression, “The common good” is problematic.

Good versus bad is a binary. These polarities cannot exist or be understood except in relation to each other. Nor is there an exact middle or balance between the two. Balance is also an illusion in that it is never fixed, but rather an action.

Imagine a teeter-totter on a children’s playground.

Watch two children playing in a playground on a teeter-totter, up and down, playfully trying to find a perfect balance when they are both feet off the ground, looking over at each other. That moment is fleeting as one child slowly rises, while the other descends. The only part of the structure that fosters balance is the fulcrum, that mechanism in the middle of the board that allows it to move up and down at the mid-point.

The common good is like the fulcrum of a teeter-totter, forever supporting the instability of the board and whatever is pushing down on either side — good and bad, strength and weakness, or hatred and compassion.

The common good doesn’t revolve around notions of equality or equity.

Instead, the common good is about supporting a harmonious balance that connects us all.

Its essence can’t be found in rule books as a prescription or within rigid ideologies that dictate behaviour. Nor is the common good the dictate of a single person. Should any one person say that…



Darren Stehle

I ghostwrite thought leadership articles for executive coaches to showcase your best ideas, increase client engagement, and drive change @ DarrenStehle.com