COMITY

Today, it seems imperative that the fissures encouraged by collective identities be off-set with ethical standards of respectful engagement with others. What the global community seems to lack is an ethics of comity which would encourage mutual respect and collaboration. We live in a world which is complex and multitudinous in spirit and action but it does not need to be chaotic or confused. The practices of comity permit complexity without it becoming destructive and provide a spontaneous order in which differences can be symbiotic.

In its Latin roots, comity means “to go together.” It presumes action and decision-making and a being together. Comity implies both autonomy and sharing of mutual respect. Each defers to another and receives similar deference in return. Comity was used in early international law to describe the regime of mutual tolerance among independent sovereign nations which allowed for divergence and peace.

The ethical ideal of comity resonates with the ethics of friendship and with being a good neighbor. Within a nation, comity is achieved by making everyone equal in citizenship. Citizens are expected, as members of a commonwealth, to act as friends and good neighbors towards one another.

The Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism therefore recommends that new ethical principles for comity in community be proposed which would apply to citizens, those hoping to become citizens and those who are merely residents in a nation.

 
Such ethical principles would address and reduce the resentments that some now feel for others.

With respect to large outflows of migrants seeking refuge in a new homeland to escape trials and tribulations, fear or famine, in their native lands, the principle of comity also speaks under international law to the failure of responsibility on the part of the sovereign authorities from which such migrants seek escape from their distress. It is a breach of comity for one sovereign to impose burdens on another.

Each sovereign has a duty to protect those under its power and authority from harm. Failure by one sovereign through negligence or intentional discrimination to protect its citizens and residents does not call for other sovereigns to provide refuge for those placed in harm’s way by such failures.

 
The responsible sovereign has a duty to the international community and to its neighbors to remediate wrongs – negligent or intentional – on its part with respect to its citizens who can no longer live securely or happily under its authority.

The calling of the human person is to community. No one is an island unto themselves, each is part of the main. Our special destiny, opportunities unlike those given to any other, and our individual gifts is and are in relationship with others from our birth until we leave this life. Trust and responsibility set us apart as worthy of consideration. Showing respect for others brings us respect and honor in return.

Our character reveals our values and our courage to live for ourselves and for others in the right proportions and with grace and dignity.

 
Citizenship in community makes justice triumph over evil.

It is an insight common to all religions that we are called to rise above mean selfishness and act for higher purposes. We always live by our values – be they good or bad – but it is better for us and for those whose lives we influence that we live by good values.

This is especially true for democracies, societies that depend on the quality of their citizens for their success and prosperity. George Washington concluded that:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.… It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”

 


The Ethical Offices of Citizenship, Resident and Immigrant | The Ethics of a Resident: The Office of a Friend and the Office of a Guest | The Ethics of an Immigrant: Serving as Prospective Citizen and Holding the Offices of Friend and Guest | Guidelines for the Offices of Citizen, Friend and Guest | The Office of a Friend | The Office of a Guest


Annex I
The Ethical Offices of Citizenship, Resident and Immigrant

Sovereign nation states as communities are inhabited by citizens and residents. Citizens have a legal right to residence and other rights, privileges and benefits under the laws of the sovereign. Residents either have permission from the sovereign to remain in the territory or they do not. Immigrants to a nation state either have permission to reside in the territory or they are trespassers. Immigrants may choose to become citizens under the nationality laws of the nation state or they may choose not to or do not qualify for becoming citizens.

The Ethics of Citizenship: An Office of Service to Self and Society

Not every citizen shares commonalities of language, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political views, social status and more attributes, ascriptive or achieved, with other citizens. Some nations are very homogenous; others are very pluralistic and multicultural. But the status of citizen is common to all regardless of other identifications and personal preferences.

The primary ethical obligation of a citizen is to contribute to civil order by going beyond the letter of the law to build the social capital of a community. In Christian terms, this reflects love of neighbor with neighbors to include all citizens, to some degree, and to do unto other citizens as we would have them do unto us. Love of neighbor does not take away from a proper love of self. We each have our dignity, our own worth. Being a good neighbor is an office of service to a just common good, respectful of human dignity and the moral sense.

Thus, a citizen is self-empowered to be a friend. The office of a friend is most necessary for the well-being of community. It is the bond that sustains relationships through strife and adversity. The capacity to be a friend provides for the internal moral vindication of each person and thereby sustains, in psychological comfort, each person as they confront the ups and downs of fortune. The best friendships bring forth love and trust, which promote the highest quality of community where simultaneously and reciprocally, individuals are honored for who they are and community efforts thrive.

The Ethics of a Resident: The Office of a Friend and the Office of a Guest

There is no obligation of a sovereign state to open its borders except on terms acceptable to that state. The ethics of compassion for those who suffer in foreign lands may induce a country to admit citizens of those countries as immigrants seeking citizenship or as residents who enjoy protection and economic opportunity.

Residents are subjects of the sovereignty under which they live and which, in its proper office, secures their domestic tranquility. Unlike citizens, they have no role in sovereign decision-making. But as residents, they share in the fortunes of the national community. Thus, as recipients of benefits and privileges provided by the government, society and culture, residents assume ethical obligations in return. These obligations are to assume the office of a friend as much as possible and to be gracious and charitable in the office of a guest.

The ethics of friendship noted above for citizens are not limited to those who already have citizenship. Residents are participants in the national community. They too, therefore, should carry out the office of friend towards citizens and others alike.

The status of guest comes with its own special duties of showing goodwill and thanks of honoring the host with appreciation and never imposing on those who have welcomed us into their homes. It is the ethical duty of guests to be accommodating and not overbearing with respect to making requests of a host. An invitation to share a meal contains no presumption that one may also stay the night.

Some residents intend to become citizens and thus assume the duties of citizenship. They may prepare for enjoyment of this status with its privileges and obligations by incorporating into their behaviors the traits of good citizens as noted above.

The Ethics of an Immigrant: Serving as Prospective Citizen and Holding the Offices of Friend and Guest

Immigrants - refugee, asylum seeker, worker, student or retiree – become residents of a nation state with the intention of making a life as part of that community. As such, they have the status of prospective citizen, learning how to assume the privileges and obligations of citizenship and the status of friend, obligated to perform the office of friend in their new homeland.

In gratitude for receiving permission to become a resident and then, perhaps, a citizen, immigrants should be particularly alert to being a gracious guest.

Conclusion

These ethical standards for the offices of citizen, friend and guest can be placed in the context of great wisdom traditions. They invoke the principles of human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity of Catholic Social Teachings. Under Protestant social teachings, they stand on the moral goodness of finding a vocation for self to sustain God’s created realm of common grace. They embody the paramitras of Buddhist teachings: generosity, proper conduct, renunciation, insightful wisdom, effort, forbearance, truthfulness, resolution, goodwill and equanimity. They reflect Qur’anic guidance to make of yourselves a community that seeks righteousness and enjoins justice and to follow the counsels of only those who enjoin charity, kindness and peace among men. These ethical standards fully comply with the wisdom of Confucius that “reciprocity” is an ideal which will serve us all life long and the commitment of Mencius to only guide us towards humanness and mutual engagement. The relationships of citizen, friend and guest embody the Japanese ethic of Kyosei, symbiosis.

ANNEX II
Guidelines for the Offices of Citizen, Friend and Guest

Public power constitutes a civic order for the safety and common good of its members. The civic order, as a moral order, protects and promotes the integrity, dignity and self-respect of its members in their capacity as citizens and, therefore, avoids all measures, oppressive and other, whose tendency is to transform the citizen into a subject.

The state shall protect, give legitimacy to or restore all those principles and institutions which sustain the moral integrity, self-respect and civic identity of the individual citizen and which also serve to inhibit processes of civic estrangement, dissolution of the civic bond and civic disaggregation. This effort by the civic order itself protects the citizen’s capacity to contribute to the well-being of the civic order.

Public power, however allocated by constitutions, referendums or laws, shall rest its legitimacy in processes of communication and discourse among autonomous moral agents who constitute the community to be served by the government. Free and open discourse, embracing independent media, shall not be curtailed except to protect legitimate expectations of personal privacy, sustain the confidentiality needed for the proper separation of powers or for the most dire of reasons relating to national security.

Therefore, citizenship is an office of service to the public weal. The honor which comes from being a citizen lies in fidelity to duty and responsibility. Entitlements may accrue to individuals for personal enjoyment but duties are the price paid for membership in the national community.

To hold a share of power in the civic order is to assume a status, to have the dignity of positional responsibility above and beyond personal preferences and desires, angers and delights. As must any agent or other fiduciary, the citizen has an obligation to consider the good of others as a check on each and every personal interest or prejudice.

1) A citizen uses discourse ethics in the resolution of community difficulties and the promotion of community well-being. A citizen must not act from petulance or any other tyrannous instinct.

2) A citizen makes a commitment to learn, to seek good values and to be open and fair minded.

3) A citizen will reflect and deliberate in good faith, not giving sway to prejudice or ignorance, to find means to use their best skills and abilities.

4) A citizen will tell the truth, making integrity and sincerity the basis for all relationships.

5) A citizen will not be afraid of debate or discussion of differences, expecting the same in return from other citizens. What is done together is often more consequential than what a citizen can do alone.

6) A citizen shall use power wisely, seeking to leave the world a better place for having been alive, caring for others and alert to serve whenever possible.

7) A citizen will use wealth responsibly to enhance the future capitals which provide for community and individual well-being – financial, environmental, social and human.

8) A citizen will be self-reliant and not easily transfer responsibility for disappointments and frustrations to the intentions of others or the blind forces of history and fate

The Office of a Friend

Friendship arises from the moral nature of the person out of benevolence and the seeking of companionship from the disposition of our minds and hearts. It is more than convenience or obtaining transactional advantage. It may further our self-love or interest but is not limited to only furthering selfish aims. Oddly, the more one is conscious of intrinsic personal merit, the better a friend one can be to others. Aristotle proposed that we each “ought to strain every nerve” to avoid wickedness and try to be a person of good character, ”for in that way one can both be on good terms with oneself and become the friends of somebody else.”

The putting of self in service of another through feelings of amity creates an office of responsibility through deliberate self-control.

Friendship is sustained by character. When a friend’s character changes or the depths of that person’s character are revealed, the office of friendship may terminate. A friend never values others simply for their utility.

For the self, forms of friendship which do not impose serious obligations of reciprocity and so are a lower form of office are based on the utility to one of the other as a friend and the pleasure one takes in being with another. Friendships based on utility and pleasure are more easily dissolved. Their partnerships are potentially very vulnerable to dissolution, as are friends on Facebook.

1) A friend provides succor and sustenance when necessary, material and emotional.

2) A friend identifies with others as if they were similar in purpose and need.

3) A friend does not expect others to put aside merely for friendship’s sake what is most important to them but rather finds noble sympathy in bearable differences.

4) It is the obligation of a friend, from time to time, to admonish and reprove with full honest out of goodwill.

5) A friend may expect reciprocal offices and be prepared to reciprocate in turn.

6) A friend is steadfast and reliable, especially in times of distress and hardship.

7) As friendship depends on character. A change in character will change the friendship.

The Office of a Guest

A guest is welcomed into a home or a community by an act of kindness. The welcoming creates a relationship, a mutuality of interdependence. Reciprocating such kindness is the office of a guest. Host and guest participate in a joint venture to which each partner contributes to its success.

1) A guest should express thanks and appreciation.

2) A guest should offer to share the burdens of the journey in some way.

3) A guest should be attentive to the values, beliefs and practices of the host.

A guest should not impose on the host, have undue expectations as to the host’s responsibilities of care and patronage, nor should a guest seek to take advantage of a host’s inclination to be generous.