What is my obligation to my fellow man, to other living things and to the Universe in general? These questions are constantly in the background of our every action we make, although for most people most of the time the needs of the personal self are primary and often all-consuming. Adam Smith would argue that caring for one’s self is also caring for the community; that each person involved in an economic transaction is seeking to improve their personal well being and both parties feel they enhance their own life situation by participating in the mutually agreed upon actions. This type of action is often at the expense of other living things and almost always to the detriment of the natural world.
Other times we are involved in group activities that require cooperation among the various persons toward a common goal, such as sailing a ship where everyone arrives at the destination at the same time and the work of each person helps in reaching the goal. It is like the group is combined into the task and the ship itself is the person, which is rather like the present Supreme Court conception of a corporation. Or perhaps it can be thought of as a living body with each person performing the tasks of the various organs with the goal of maximizing life force. In these types of situations we enhance our own life force by doing our duties to enhance the life force of the group.
Within a corporate setting, as within a legal structure, we are required to obey our controlling laws and persons in authority. This is typical of many jobs and other hierarchically organized social situations. The individual obeys the organization and its demands and is rewarded or punished according to the success of his compliance. In these situations the individual has little input into the group’s impact on outside people, other life forms or on the well-being of the Earth and he is absolved of most responsibility for the baleful effects.
When people think about social relationships they are usually considering those ongoing one-to-one relationships with family and friends. In these situations there is trust and a fair shared use of commonly owned items. People are expected to give each other personal space and fair access to social attention between the people. Things are done with general group consensus and agreement.
What each of these different social situations has in common is the implied agreement that there is a fair and balanced use of resources available to each person accepted as being in the group with the goal of overall enhancing of their general well-being. It seems that the common thread running though all of these human transactions is the implied:
I will do for you what you should do for me and you should do for me what I will do for you and that is to help you live your life more abundantly.