When we are in the womb, presumably, we concern ourselves with next to nothing. When we are born, we become aware of and concerned about being hungry, being comfortable, being safe. We eventually expand to care about what other people think of us, if we have control over important events, getting to play with the things we want. As we get older, we begin to care about our place in society, whether we get good grades and if others find us attractive. And soon, we begin to care about whether we are acting ethically, whether we are living by our states valued.
Eventually, we get to a level of growth where we realize our well-being is dependent on the well-being of people outside of us, our families, our neighborhoods, our towns, our nation and people from our homeland, our “tribe.” And so we act in a way that is good for those others. We develop reciprocal relationships. We truly begin to care for people and things outside of us.
And the process doesn’t even necessarily stop there.
We can go beyond concern for our families, our extended families, our tribes, and our countries. We can extend our sphere of concern to other nations, to other genders, races, and ways of being. We can extend our sphere of concern to other species, to ecosystems themselves, to planets. We can even extend our sphere of concern to the entirety of the universe, everything that ever has or ever will be.
In Western society, especially in the United States, we often hear the story that the highest and noblest good is the freedom and expression of individual humans.
But this is just a story. If we wanted, we could instead imagine the noblest good as expanding our “sphere of concern” to the widest, most far-reaching scope we can conceive. We could choose to act primarily in service not to ourselves as individuals, but rather to humanity itself, to life itself, to the universe itself.
Do we want to? What might we gain in the process? What might we lose?