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Contribute to the Commons+Image

When I arrived in Beijing in the early 1990s, the air was visible.  People routinely wore surgical masks on the street. In that smog, I realized that boundaries between nations, and indeed between people, are illusory and ultimately unenforceable. The boundaries of nations had no impact on the movement of air, and China’s pollutants could not be confined to the nation that produced them.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, the world is “The Commons.”  Our actions and our ideas cannot be bound by so-called borders, and each of us  constantly contributes to the commons.  The question is not, “Will you contribute to the commons?”  The question is, “What are we contributing to the commons, and is our contribution what we intended?”

What can we intentionally, purposefully, and consciously contribute to the commons for the good of all?  What do we contribute to the commons that creates pain for others and does not advance civilization?


  • Ideas – Are you selfish with your ideas, always trying to corner a market and make a profit, or do you freely share? Check out creativecommons.org and see how others are dealing with this challenge.

  • Garbage – Are you careful with your resources? Do you dispose of waste in a way that benefits the commons or adds to its problems?  Do you reduce, repurpose, recycle, reuse, repair? Do you share, couchsurf, freecycle?

  • Attitude – Do you contribute negativity to the commons, or are you a positive force? Your attitude is contagious and affects many others. Are you contributing to a climate of respect for all? Do you treat others with the dignity that is their birthright, or do you contribute to a climate of disrespect? What effect does your hatred for another have on the commons?  How does your love make a difference? Are you contributing small and large acts of kindness and generosity of spirit, or are you contributing to the overall rudeness and depersonalization of daily life?
  • Service – What can you do to assist others? Do you give more than you take? 

  • Integrity –  Are you contributing to the commons by telling the truth, accepting responsibility for yourself and your actions, keeping your promises, and doing the right thing, or are you contributing to the sense that nobody can be trusted?


Each of us is an inevitable contributor to and recipient from the commons. Each of us is invested with the power to make a difference in the commons with our every thought, every action, every omission. 

What are you contributing to the commons?

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