By Canon Gerry Conroy

When you consider the history of human behaviour, it is a bit like a pendulum in the way it develops: it seems to go from one position which has its own extremes in need of correction, but those extremes cause a swing to another position which has its extremes in need of correction and which in turn causes a swing to another position and so on in a continuous never ending development. Progress is slow and tortuous. 

For a good number of years now, the guiding principle of human behaviour has been the overriding importance of the individual. The rights of the individual have trumped every other consideration. It has brought many important blessings and has been a necessary counter to previous excesses where the importance or dignity of the individual was not truly recognised or valued as a reality which in its time brought about many injustices and much suffering for people. But there are now many indications that the pendulum has swung too far in that direction and is in need of balance in the other direction. 

This Pandemic is forcing us to confront the excesses of individualism where people are saying they have a right not to wear masks if they don’t want to, or to not socially distance if they don’t want to. Such insistence on their rights, we can recognise as not being limited to matters concerning Covid-19, but are present in every aspect of life. So, can we not say that our handling of this pandemic should make us reconsider the correctness of our short sighted insistence on the accustomed rights of the individual which are shown to be too often nothing other than selfishness. We are now having to confront the importance not only of the rights of the individual but the importance of the Common Good in our deliberations of how we should behave, not just during the pandemic, but for our well-being in general. 

The Gospel passage today is all about the common good, and living in peace with one another, when looked at from the point of view of the rights of the individual can seem like an unwarranted intrusion on the personal life of a person, but when we consider it from the point of view of the Common Good, it offers sage advice and a reminder that our behaviour is not only our concern – how we act has an effect on the lives of others. 

Our society has long determined its laws and its principles on the basis of the freedom of the individual to determine their own destiny and existence. It is time for the pendulum to correct this excess and recognise the equal importance of the common good in our laws and principles. Love of our neighbour isn’t simply a matter of charity it is also a matter of justice and of living in the real world. In the face of the pandemic we might even go so far as to say it is a matter of survival.

  • Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton


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