I attended an event this week during which one of the speakers called Massachusetts a commonwealth, and although the speaker was simply using the territory’s formal name to identify it, not necessarily trying to make some particular statement about Massachusetts, this word “commonwealth” struck me as very significant. The internets will tell you that Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia all consider themselves commonwealths rather than states. The internets will also tell you that the difference between a commonwealth and a state is really just a cosmetic one, rather than one of legal or functional import.  Perhaps the internets doesn’t realize the import of the potential psychological differences between being the subject of a state versus sharing in common wealth.

a commonwealth can be: 

  • an independent, democratic community, republic or country
  • a community or organization of shared interests
  • a self-governing unit
  • an aggregate or grouping of countries or other bodies
  • the general good
  • the public’s welfare

a state can be:

  • the particular condition someone or something is in at a particular time
    • an anxious or agitated condition
    • a dirty or untidy condition
    • a condition reflecting something’s molecular form or structure
    • short for quantum state
  • an organized political community UNDER one government
  • the civil government of a country
  • the pomp and ceremony associated with monarchies and other “high” levels of government
  • a legislative body

If we considered and called the assets, infrastructure, systems, natural resources, and fellow inhabitants (human, animal, plant, etc) of each state the common or shared wealth for which we were all responsible and in which we could all partake, how might that change our perspectives? How might that change our understandings of justice, equity and merit? How might that change how we govern? How might that change how we behave towards each other and how we engage in regulating and protecting the myriad components of our commonwealth?