Common Fire: Lives of Commitment in a Complex World.

Daloz, Laurent A., et al. Common Fire: Lives of Commitment in a Complex World. Beacon Press, 1996.

“Common Fire: Lives of Commitment in a Complex World” examines those qualities that set apart people with sustained, long-term commitment to the common good in the face of increasing complexity, diversity, and ambiguity in the world they inhabit. The authors define common good as the well-being of the whole earth community and the broadly shared goals towards which the members of the community strive including its prosperity and moral development. What constitutes commitment to the common good and how can it be sustained in the context of rampant individualism, consumerism, and general cynicism that reduces all human motivation to narrow self-interests?
In order to understand how lives of commitment to the common good are formed and sustained, the authors interviewed over a period of several years upwards of one hundred people who exemplified such lives. Four key questions guided the exploration: (1) what are such people like? (2) how do they become that way? (3) what keeps them going in spite of inevitable discouragement? and (4) what can be done to encourage this kind of citizenship to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century?
The authors discovered that people who demonstrate lives of commitment to the common good display the capacity to see the interconnectedness among the broader sphere of activities. In the face of self-interest driven individualism, these people inhabit hospitable places where others are truly welcome to nurture enabling relationships. They demonstrate compassion for those who are other and come from radically different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. They possess certain habits of mind undergirded by shared convictions which are formed mostly outside the purview of formal education and training. The capacity to display courage in the face of cynicism and despair, and the ability to accept one’s own limitations and shortcomings characterize those who live lives of sustained commitment to the common good.
Through narrating the stories of people they interviewed, the authors describe patterns of life marked by qualities of public service, compassion, conviction, courage, confession, and commitment to the common good. A series of guidelines are offered at the end as “compass points” for generating, nurturing and sustaining lives of common good in several different domains which together constitute the global commons.