The Tragedy of the Commons

Are you familiar with the economic principle “the tragedy of the commons”? It basically says that most of us are pretty good at taking care of our own houses, but if there is a courtyard in the middle of the neighborhood, even though it belongs to all of us, none of us will take care of it like we take care of our own home. Economists use this term to describe vandalism and run-down parts of town.

Another way of putting it is that “no drop of rain believes it is to blame for the flood.”

When we are just one part of a larger system, it is easy for us to lower our personal standards or avoid personal responsibility. After all, somebody else, somewhere has just as much call to help as I have.

Christians understand that what helps one of us helps all of us, and what hurts any of us grieves all of us. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

Rather than viewing the common areas in our lives as a place for other people to take care of, we see them as our own personal ground to serve. I love how Paul refers to his friend Epaphroditus: his “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier.” (Philippians 2:25) He sees him as his partner in the faith. They are in it together. In Ephesians he says that the Gentile Christians “are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)

Christianity speaks against the tragedy of the commons. It speaks against isolation and a John Wayne “I’ll do it myself” sort of attitude. It calls us towards fellowship, partnering with each other in living kingdom life.