Several political thinkers have spoken recently about the need for a new language of virtue in public life which is rooted in private behaviour. Their motives for this stem from a new realisation that life chances are deeply affected by the kind of person you are, especially in the labour market where emotional skills are increasingly valued by employers.
For too long we have assented to a crude and unsustainable distinction between private and public life, not accepting that private actions have public consequences. The individualism which permeates all our thinking has allowed us far too much scope to behave as we wish and to diminish any sense that what we do might impact unfairly on others.
The carbon footprint has broken through this unsustainable distinction between private and public to be followed by a horde of other ‘footprints’. Smoking, drinking, parenting, marriage, driving and shopping are just a handful of issues that are freshly recognised to have an impact on the wider community, for better or for worse, both financially and socially. The ability of people to resist temptation and defer gratification, to understand how their emotional responses and personal preferences are embedded in a network of relationships which are altered by the decisions they make are now pertinent questions which until recently people have been able to deflect with the assertion: ‘it’s none of your business how I choose to live my life’.