When did we stop caring about one another? I live in a neighborhood that has a neighborhood association and some land that is jointly owned by 97 homeowners. Some of the roads are town roads and some are private, and all could use repair work. The neighborhood is split between those who abut the private roads and those who don’t. The town has historically repaired the roads (even the private roads).

Recently, the issue was raised: “Should we ask the town to fully repave the private roads, or should the association pay for this work?” Will the whole neighborhood pull together to pay for the repaving, or will the non-abutters refuse to pay their share? As you might guess, the consensus was to ask the town. But the town says they no longer have the money to do this work.

Why doesn’t the town have the money to pay for road repair? (private or public, the roads in our town are a mess!) Because in our state there is a law that restricts the ability of the cities and towns to raise property taxes above a certain level without a referendum. The whole conversation about these roads has led me to the same conclusion: We don’t care about one another anymore. No one thinks about the “common good”.

This lack of concern for the common good is part of the question in the neighborhood association. We don’t want to have the discussion about whether this is an association responsibility or should only be paid for by the road abutters. This is similar to the discussion about infrastructure projects and repair in the presidential campaign. And, pay attention to what comes out of the White House and Congress in the coming months: will we pay for infrastructure (and jobs) with new taxes, or will we borrow and/or encourage private investors to pay for the work in exchange for toll revenues?

This is true for non-profits too. Much of the community work that we refuse to tax ourselves to pay for has become the responsibility of nonprofit organizations. But then we don’t give them enough money to do the work either! We say we care about one another, but then we don’t put any money behind our words. In particular, giving to federated campaigns has dropped in the past several years. And many federated campaigns now encourage “directed giving”. This means the donor can specify where the money goes, instead of having it allocated by the community leaders who serve on the allocation committees. Why? Because we no longer seem to believe that there is a common good that can best be served by having a group of community leaders determine the priorities.

I firmly believe that there is a common good. That some projects must be paid for whether I benefit from them or not. That’s part of why I have spent most of my career fundraising for nonprofit organizations. It’s also why I am so frustrated by the current political climate. It’s all about “I have mine, and I don’t want anyone else to get theirs because it might cost me a piece of mine.” It’s why we continue to elect people who promise to lower our taxes, rather than people who promise to continue providing services, and tell us we need to pay taxes to pay for them. If our society continues down this path, we won’t continue for long. What keeps society functioning if there is no recognized common good and we don’t care for one another?