COVID-19: How Can We Make Choices That Promote The Common Good?

Last updated November 23, 2020.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced people around the world to change how they live and interact with other people. Infectious disease researchers advocate that we all continue to practice social distancing in order to prevent spikes in case numbers that can  overwhelm healthcare systems. Mask mandates, travel restrictions, and changes to the ways we work and go to school continue to impact most cities and towns. Following these public health guidelines is crucial not only to protect our individual health but also to minimize the harm COVID-19 inflicts on our society as a whole. As civil rights strategist Eric Ward writes, "The truth of our interconnectedness has never been more apparent."1 This Teaching Idea is designed to help students grapple with the difficult ethical questions that we are all being asked to confront in our daily lives right now: What is the common good? How can we make choices that promote the common good during the coronavirus outbreak?

This Teaching Idea includes student-facing Google Slides, which contain the following four activities:

  1. What is the common good?
  2. What actions can I take to promote the common good?
  3. What actions can we take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and promote the common code?
  4. How are my individual actions part of a collective action?

The Slides are designed to be adaptable to both in-person and online instruction. Each activity contains reflection questions, to which students can respond in a variety of ways including individual written reflections, voice recordings, or a synchronous class discussion.


Note: What follows are the student-facing instructions for the four activities. The full activities can be found in the Slides for this Teaching Idea. 

Activity 1: What is the common good?

The changes we are being asked to make in our lives—like washing our hands thoroughly, limiting our contact with other people, wearing masks—are designed to protect each of us, but they are also designed to promote the common good. According to Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel:

The common good is about how we live together in community. It’s about the ethical ideals we strive for together, the benefits and burdens we share, the sacrifices we make for one another. It’s about the lessons we learn from one another about how to live a good and decent life.2

On a piece of paper, insert a color, a symbol, and an image that represent what the term common good means to you. You can search online to find a symbol and an image.

Reflect: Why did you choose that color, symbol, and image? How do they represent the common good to you?

Activity 2: What actions can I take to promote the common good?

Write your name in the center of a page. Around your name, write the names of the people, or groups of people, that you feel connected to. Draw a line between each one and your own name.(There is an example provided in the Slides). 

For example:

Reflect:

  1. What actions can I take to help the people—or groups of people—who I am connected to?
  2. How can helping the people I am connected to help to promote the common good?

Activity 3: What actions can we take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and promote the common good?

Use all of the following resources to learn about how the coronavirus spreads and the measures we can take to help prevent the spread of the disease:

Reflect:

  1. To what extent is taking measures like social distancing and mask wearing about keeping me safe? To what extent is it about protecting others and the common good?
  2. How can the choices I make about who I see and where I go help to prevent the spread of the coronavirus?

Activity 4: How are my individual actions part of a collective action?

Read the following quotes about the common good during the coronavirus outbreak. Then choose one to write about in your journal:

  1. Ashwin Vasan, the president and CEO of Fountain House, an organization that works to reduce isolation:

    By distancing yourself, you're contributing to a societal act—a collective action—that is not only protecting yourself, but protecting others . . . And so if we can see some community in that, and see some connectedness in that, I hope that's a motivating and aspirational way of looking at something that is inherently difficult.5

  2. Eric Ward, civil rights strategist and director of the Western States Center:

    . . . might this be the moment to find our common identity as a people in our core values, in a vision and daily practice of collective responsibility, in a commitment to a truly inclusive democracy?6

  3. Eric Ward, civil rights strategist and director of the Western States Center:

    The truth of our interconnectedness has never been more apparent.7

Reflect:

  1. How can we come together to improve society during this crisis?
  2. What does it mean to stay away from each other physically but still work together?

Citations

  • 1 : Eric K. Ward, “Who Are We, America?,” Southern Poverty Law Center, March 22, 2020.
  • 2 :  Michael Sandel in Thomas Friedman, “Finding the ‘Common Good’ in a Pandemic,” New York Times, March 24, 2020.
  • 3 : The New York Times is offering free digital subscriptions to high school students and teachers through September 2021. Without a subscription, you will have access to a limited number of free articles per month.
  • 4 : Without a subscription to the Washington Post, you and your students will have access to a limited number of free articles per month. 
  • 5 :  “How to be Alone, But not Lonely, Despite the Coronavirus,” Morning Edition, NPR, March 17, 2020. 
  • 6 : Eric K. Ward, “Who Are We, America?,” Southern Poverty Law Center, March 22, 2020. 
  • 7 : Eric K. Ward, “Who Are We, America?,” Southern Poverty Law Center, March 22, 2020. 

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