Caring for the Commons

We’re all familiar with the tragedy of the commons: the way resources enjoyed by all but managed by none tend to get overused to the point of failure.

The question is whether it’s inevitable. Not whether the instinct to overuse common resources is real, but whether it will certainly prevail.

The answer isn’t clear. Someone always seems to be more invested — everyone wants to keep picking tomatoes, but only a couple of people will actually show up to tend the garden every day.

But I have gotten a few tastes of true community initiatives, and they’r tantalizing. They’re not leaderless or structureless, but they are communal and sustainable because enough people value them enough to step into and out of leadership roles as needed.

If you’re lucky enough to be a part of a community like that, consider how precious it is. And if you’re a member (perhaps especially a long-suffering one) of a community that’s still stuck in free-riding mode, consider finding a way to cultivate some more gardeners.