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The price of the greater good

Jul 13, 2022 | Shorts

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Acting for the greater good gives meaning to our lives which can be compromised if we use our actions to avoid other responsibilities.
As far back as the first millennia BC, the great sages from Confucius to Socrates preached that we find meaning in our lives by making a difference to others. Intent on changing how we behaved, they stressed the importance of “the greater good”.

And this is, I believe, true. However, I was struck by a passage written in 2009 by Nicola Upson in her book Angel With Two Faces. The book is a fictional detective story set between the wars featuring the real author and playwright Josephine Tay – clever!

Unlike so many thrillers, it is considered and descriptive. Upson explores her characters in-depth and uses them as a vehicle to reflect her own views on humanity.

Fighting for the greater good

So I definitely paused for thought when I read her conversation between the two main characters. In short, Archie Penrose talks about the importance of doing something for the greater good, in this case fighting for his country in the First World War.

On the other hand, Tay reminds Penrose that fighting for his country will not bring meaning if he forgets the other parts of his life. The meaning we derive from working for the greater good in one arena can be negated by forgetting about those elsewhere who rely on us and for whom we have a responsibility.

The passage resonates as I head off to Lourdes again next week for the second time this year. Like the many volunteers I will be joining, we dedicate a week of our lives to serving those less fortunate than ourselves. There is no doubt we make a difference and, in so doing, find a strong sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.

The price of working for the greater good

However, it comes at a price. So for the week (and a week either side spent preparing and recovering), we put on hold the other arenas of our lives, including our families, friends at home and our work.

Like so much in life, dedication to “the greater good” requires balance. Spending a whole week in Lourdes and gaining a tremendous sense of personal achievement and meaning is acceptable. However, a sense of balance ensures the purpose we derive in one arena does not compromise the reliance others feel on us as change-makers.

One way to prevent yourself from becoming an “angel with two faces” is by creating a personal manifesto that balances your vision, aspirations and boundaries.

Attributions and references

Photo by Roan Lavery on Unsplash

Angel with Two Faces by Nichola Upson

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