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What Do We Owe Each Other?

On July 6, I posted a blog titled Who Cares Anyway? but I think the real question is What Do We Owe Each Other?

Unless you are a philosophy student, you may not have heard of contractualism or T.M. Scanlon's book "What We Owe to Each Other?" Neither had I until I saw The Good Place and Chidi gave the book to Eleanor. More so when Michael asked Eleanor that same question while he was tending bar and she was trying to decide to give back a wallet she found or keep it for herself.

She found it. Shouldn't she be able to keep it? Is she morally obligated to give it back, to at least try to find its owner. In the episode, eventually she does. She reluctantly goes on a quest to give this wallet back only to end up doing other good deeds along the way. She is growing as a person, evolving, realizing the world doesn't revolve around her and that she lives in a society where there is an obligation to each other. Moral contractualism is the view that the rightness and wrongness of our conduct is somehow to be understood in terms of some kind of actual or counterfactual agreement. Over time in her emotional development, she realized her actions should follow one of many unwritten agreements in society - find something and try to get it back to its rightful owner. She is becoming a better person.

You can philosophize yourself right into paralysis just like Chidi in The Good Place but I believe there are social constructs that we live by, whether they are written down or not. I believe the rent we pay to live on this Earth is to give back to each other. To do the right thing. People may define that differently but I think deep down we know what is right. Or I hope we do.

When it comes to my previous blog - to not throw litter out of your car. Why? Because someone else has to pick it up and it can hurt animals and fish when it gets into our waterways via a storm drain. Also because it is MY responsibility to take care of my own trash.

For natural resources, do we want to strip the land and water of what it has to offer us? Or should we share the bounty - each taking only what we need, leaving some for each other and the animals who use it. Sometimes I wonder if anyone else has read Tragedy of the Commons. I'll save you a read, here is a one minute explanation. At the very least, I hope people have read The Lorax or seen the movie - same concept.

Our staff and most people I know who work in this field practice what they preach. We all have native plants in our yards, we don't litter, we clean off our storm drains, we encourage pollinators, we recycle, we pick up our dog waste, etc etc etc. We don't always get it right but we try to do the right thing for our environment. It's not just a job, at least not for me. It was important to me to have a career in something I believe in - something that makes our world a better place. Again, that rent we pay to society is to give back. To each other. To the Earth.

Especially now when we are seeing the effects of climate change due to human actions, when we are fighting over wearing a mask or getting a vaccine, when we are so divided. Wouldn't we be better off - wouldn't our society be better off - if we all asked ourselves the question - What Do We Owe to Each Other?

So? What Do We Owe to Each Other?

P.S. The Good Place is an excellent show - will make you laugh and will make you think. (Netflix)

Blog author: Amy Roskilly, Conservation Education & Communications Manager

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