What truly separates the public interest from the self interest is change, with which comes countless new possibilities, many of them practical and exciting. The positive aspects of these opportunities are accessible to everyone, but unfortunately, it is easy to personalize the negative ones.
Many personal concerns are legitimate, especially when an issue truly has a direct affect on you, but when it comes to social issues, discussions on speculative impacts to the typical individual often draws the conversation too far away from more significant big picture questions. Focusing on personal risk ignores the dynamic opportunities and benefits available through building and expanding our relationships, regardless of any improbable cost.
This is especially the case these days when it comes to the Ebola crisis. Certainly such an infectious and deadly disease requires a serious, prompt and coordinated response, but for the typical person living in North America, dwelling on the very miniscule chance that you will encounter an Ebola infected individual, much less engaging in an activity that would expose you to the virus, is a waste of time.
For one, when it comes to travel, recently being in Africa doesn’t automatically mean you even have a remote chance of having ever had contact with an Ebola infected person. It is bad enough when someone in Vancouver is assumed to know a person in Toronto 5,000 kilometres away because they’re both Canadian, but it’s even worse considering a 50-plus country continent bigger than North America.
Second, it is far from being the most deadly risk you will likely ever face. As the Economist reports, Ebola isn’t even the deadliest disease in Africa (AIDS and malaria are bigger). The same Economist article noted the harsh impact such thinking has had on the African economy, especially the tourism sector, even though, as illustrated in the graphic, the Ebola affected areas are as distant from popular safari destinations as they are from Europe.
Travel restrictions in response to the Ebola crisis, such as the ones recently imposed by the Canadian government, are also very short sighted. In addition to further harming the African economy, it also drives its victims, both the infected and those truly at risk, deeper underground. This not only impedes proper treatment of the current emergency, but also motivates leaders of such areas to be dishonest in the event of future crises to avoid such constraints being placed by the international community, exposing the world to more widespread and longer term risks in the process.
It is valid and human to protect yourself from clear and present danger, but that instinct should not make us blind to the broader impacts of our decisions that cause further harm to those already in need. Maintaining a public interest perspective on issues such as these can provide a rational base to help overcome needless and unproductive myopic speculation.
Moreover, as represented by the Dynamic dimension, the most distinguishing feature of the public interest over the personal one is the ever growing constructive possibilities we gain access to by keeping our minds open to the world around us. An inward perspective is secure and unchanging, but ultimately unproductive and infertile, while the progressive areas of conduct like creativity, diversity, and constructiveness are ones that can continually build upon themselves the more you maintain an outward perspective.