Oct 14, 2021 5 min read

#315: The Common Good

#315: The Common Good

Happy Thursday, loyal readers. Thank you very much for being here. “ Some Americans no longer believe in the common good ,” author Silas House wrote in The Atlantic in August. Do you agree? Certainly the pandemic, the last presidency, and the effects of capitalism have strained our capacity for kind

Happy Thursday, loyal readers. Thank you very much for being here.

Some Americans no longer believe in the common good,” author Silas House wrote in The Atlantic in August. Do you agree? Certainly the pandemic, the last presidency, and the effects of capitalism have strained our capacity for kindness. But maybe the problem is that it’s easier for us to find examples of selfishness than generosity. Our feeds, after all, serve up plenty of the negative. Or maybe the issue is that our world is too big and distracting now – national, international, all at once! – that even if we try to focus on making a contribution, it seems like a drop in the bucket.

Today’s issue focuses on the challenges of working toward the common good, and what people are doing to make the world a better place. If you read just one article this week, make it “Good Mother,” one of my favorite pieces so far this year. You won’t regret taking a half hour. The other articles this week – about voting rights in Florida, high school kids in Texas defending their Black principal, and people choosing alternatives to cremation and burial when they die – are worth your time and attention, too. Please enjoy!

+ What’s one thing you’re trying to do for the common good? I’d love to hear what you’re up to, what little spark you’re sparking, what’s maybe not working yet but at least you’re trying.

+ If you’re seeking to deepen your reading practice, and to connect with other thoughtful readers, I invite you to try Article Club. This month, on October 24, we’re discussing “The Key,” by Brian Broome. Here’s more information about the piece, and here’s where you can sign up.

Good Mother: Custody And Care In The Shadow Of Colonization

Good Mother: Custody And Care In The Shadow Of Colonization

Lissa Yellow Bird wants to become a foster parent. But the county social services department in North Dakota isn’t so sure. So they send a questionnaire to journalist Sierra Crane Murdoch, asking for her thoughts.

In this touching, beautifully written essay, Ms. Murdoch reflects on what it means to be a good mother in the shadow of colonization. She traces how the United States government decimated American Indian motherhood by separating families, forcing children to attend boarding schools, and sterilizing women – all the way until the mid-1970s.

Ms. Murdoch writes, “Mothering was the only conceivable role in society for a Native woman, and yet motherhood was at odds with indigeneity. To become a citizen, a woman had to become a mother; to become a mother, she had to become less Indian.”

She also writes, “In the Yellow Bird family, the antidote to intergenerational trauma is intergenerational love, the piling on of relatives. When a mother falls short, the solution is not to take the child away from the mother, but to give the child more mothers and fathers.” (27 min)

When It Costs $53,000 To Vote

There’s no way for us to achieve the common good unless everyone gets their right to the franchise. We know that voter suppression is rampant, and it’s the most egregious in Florida, where the legislature overturned a 2018 constitutional amendment that allowed ex-felons to vote after serving their time. That’s not enough, lawmakers said. You have to pay all your outstanding fines first. For Judy Bolden, who got out of prison 20 years ago, and who owes $53,000, that’s not going to happen. It’s also not going to happen for 700,000 Floridians, like Sergio Thornton, who’s been out of prison since 2012, owes $20,000, and makes $13 an hour. (9 min)

An early favorite to appear in the 2022 Pets of The Highlighter calendar, Bear, who belongs to VIP Corinne, is rooting for the Giants tonight. hltr.co/pets

BIPOC Teens In A White High School In Texas Defend Their Black Principal On Critical Race Theory Accusations

Sean Vo has never felt comfortable going to school in Colleyville, Texas, an affluent white suburb of the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex. His white teachers have avoided discussions about race, taking a colorblind approach, while his white peers have blamed him for the pandemic and mocked his Chinese and Vietnamese culture. When the community turned on the school’s first Black principal, Dr. James Whitfield, accusing him of embracing critical race theory (and for having a white wife), Mr. Vo had had enough. He organized his classmates, staged a walkout, and demanded Dr. Whitfield be reinstated. “I’m done being ignored,” he said. (20 min)

To Be A Field Of Poppies

We’re doing very little in our daily lives to mitigate the catastrophic effects of climate change. But here’s good news: We make better choices when we’re dead. Cremation now exceeds traditional burial in the United States. Despite its advantages, a cremated body still releases 540 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere, not exactly eco-friendly. That’s why Katrina Spade, founder of Recompose, has a better idea for the common good: composting your body. Think of yourself as a future poppy, Ms. Spade says – or a pinecone, or a forest grove. (28 min)

+ For the truly adventurous: Try sky burial.


Readers’ Annotations

: Several of you wrote to share your appreciation of last week’s issue on the role of work in our lives. VIP


shared that she found the articles “thought provoking,” and VIP


, a self-professed workaholic, wrote that she was excited to read the pieces despite feeling anxious. “The idea of ‘lazy’ stresses me out,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, in this NYT column, Roxane Gay (not a loyal reader, yet) had this advice for a 27-year-old woman who has a dog and hobbies and wants to work less: “At 46, as the workaholic daughter of immigrants with an intense work ethic, I am inclined to tell you that this is life. You have to get over it and find a way to balance your professional and personal lives. I don’t want to discourage you, but there is no magical way to earn a full-time salary without working full-time.”

Jamie and Martha, thank you very much for reaching out and sharing your thoughts. Loyal readers, want to keep talking about how to work less, or how to achieve the common good? Let’s do it. Hit reply and say hi.

Thank you

for reading this week’s issue of The Highlighter. Did you enjoy it? Let me know by clicking on “Yes” or ”No” below. I like hearing from you.

To our five new subscribers – including







and Emily

– I hope you find the newsletter a solid addition to your email inbox. To our long-time subscribers (






!), you’re pretty great, too. Thank you for sharing the newsletter and getting the word out.

If you like The Highlighter, please help it grow. I appreciate your support. Here are a few ways you can help:

On the other hand, if you no longer want to receive this newsletter, please unsubscribe. See you next Thursday at 9:10 am PT!

Join the conversation

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
You've successfully subscribed to Big Reading.
Your link has expired.
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.
Success! Your billing info has been updated.
Your billing was not updated.