For the Common vs. Individual Good

It never fails.  When trying to decide on an activity with my children, I’ll give them a choice, “Would you like to go here or there?”  Child A chooses “Here!”  Child B chooses “There!”  Neither is willing to compromise and do the kind thing and allow their sibling to get their choice.  So, the responsibility lands on my shoulders to make the choice that will usually leave one or both of them disappointed and protesting, “That’s not fair!”

Sigh…

Recently, a psychology professor, Dylan Selterman, PhD, at the University of Maryland included this extra-credit question on a psychology final exam:

Here you have the opportunity to earn some extra credit on your final paper grade.  Select whether you want 2 points or 6 points added onto your final paper grade.  But there’s a small catch:  if more than 10% of the class selects 6 points then no one gets any points.

Professor Selterman pointed to a concept called the tragedy of the commons as his reason for including this question on the exam.

“The tragedy of the commons is basically a dilemma between doing what is good for you as an individual versus doing what is best for the group,” the professor said.  “Now it stands to reason that people behave selfishly.  But if too many people behave selfishly, the group will suffer…and then everyone in the group individually will suffer.”

It’s an interesting concept to consider, and one that has been studied and analyzed for more than 100 years in the field of economics.  However, I just want my children to learn how to think of others before themselves, and what would be best for everyone rather than being selfish.  My desire for them is that they would know the pleasure of doing something for another without any regard to reward…just the pleasure of being a blessing rather than assuming they are entitled to whatever they want.  Selfishness is natural for someone who is young and immature, that’s why many stipulate people must reach a certain age before they can handle responsibility.

Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. (Galatians 4:1-2)

Why would a father set an age when his children could receive the inheritance he left ?  Obviously, he wants them to be of an age when they can handle the responsibility of the inheritance and not squander it.  Those who are immature feel entitled and excited about what they’re going to get; whereas, those who are mature feel the weight of the responsibility to honor their father who gave the inheritance, and they pray for wisdom to be good stewards of what they receive, and the latter often seek for ways to be generous.  Those with a generous heart are stirred with compassion when they see a need.

A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed.  “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said.
Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him, “I am willing,” He said.  “Be healed!”  
Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. (Mark 1:40-42)

Jesus was not afraid of this man’s need when most would be repulsed.  He touched someone many would find grotesque, and I’m sure there was healing of heart, mind, as well as the body of this man.  My hope is that when my children see a problem or a person in need their first impulse would be to ask, “How can I help?”  I also hope that they will look for ways to be a blessing to others.

My hope is not in vain for I have seen glimmers.  A few weeks ago my daughter had a dental appointment, and she was rewarded with getting to choose a small toy because of her good behavior.  Of all the things she could have chosen for herself, she decided on a little plastic duck to give to her brother because she knew he would like it.  That’s what I want to see more of.

compassion

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