February 1, 2016

What Should It Take to be a Good Citizen of The U.S.?

The post, What Should it Take to Become President, generated some interesting feedback a few weeks ago. Everyone who commented seemed to agree that a candidate for the highest office in the land should possess certain qualifications. One reader made a suggestion that is responsible for this post: what do we need to do to be a good citizen?

He is right. This is not a one way street where our leaders do all the heavy lifting and we are just along for the ride. No, a citizen has responsibilities, too. Not only do we have to evaluate and pick those who will do the best job in leading the country, but we are part of the "team." In large part, our actions will determine our future. 

So, here goes. What are our "qualifications" to take part in this grand experiment known as American democracy?

1) Commit to be educated. I would argue this is the most important requirement. A citizen must take the time to learn about the issues, to think deeply about the problems and opportunities we face, and to avoid the tendency to accept whatever the media or our favorite talking heads have to say.

Just because something is on the Internet, TV, or radio does not mean it is accurate and true, though it may be. A citizen's responsibility is to dig deeper. Consult multiple sources for insight, including those outside your normal comfort zone. Talk to others, form your own opinions but be prepared to change what you think if new information becomes available. Rigidity is not compatible with education.

2) Commit to participate. Not voting makes you no better than a non-citizen. Not supporting candidates and issues you believe in leaves you no right to complain about the outcome. Of course, you have every right and responsibility to fight for or against things you feel passionately about. But, if you don't play in the game, you can't simply complain about the score.

3) Commit to support or deny support as appropriate. Even if your dream candidate wins, even if every ballot proposition that you support passes, your duties are not over. There will be people, maybe lots of them, who disagree with you. You must work to support what you think is important and withdraw your support if someone or something doesn't seem right.

As the next point states, that doesn't mean you stop paying taxes if you dislike the IRS. It doesn't mean you occupy a federal building to protest a policy you find odious. It does mean you vote against people or things. It does mean you legally protest, with signs or petitions. You use your money and time to support or deny support. 

4) Commit to follow the rules. With a civilized, organized society comes the rule of law. As much as a citizen disagrees with the speed trap south of town, if caught driving faster than posted, he will pay the fine. If  called to jury duty she will serve. If someone disagrees with a point of law you don't disobey it but work to change it. As our society is structured, the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbitrator. Disagree with a finding? Work to change the law. A citizen doesn't have the right to disobey legal statues he disagrees with. Otherwise, we face anarchy.

5) Commit to be committed. Being a good citizen is not a part time job. You can't "turn it on" in an election year and then hibernate until the next one. As the points above should make clear, this is a full time responsibility. 


wikipedia.org

14 comments:

  1. Nice post Bob, especially as it is now the official beginning of the nomination season. One of my purposes in life is to always be fighting for the underdog. That is just part of what I am now. But it does get very frustrating to see how few people in that category bother to vote. If only they realized that their vote counts a much as the billionaire's. Why can't we convince them of that?

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    1. Today is the "I'm sick of hearing about it" Iowa caucus. The crazy season has now officially begun. I am hoping that a little more sanity surfaces. As citizens we are responsible for the leaders we get.

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  2. Good suggestions, Bob. Keeping those commitments is assumed. I'd add, respect your elected leaders (and pray for them if you pray at all) even when, or maybe especially when, you disagree with them.

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    1. Good point, Rick: respect for those elected is too often in short supply. Disagreement is good, disrespect of the person is not.

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  3. I think the part about "commit to follow the rules" is the part that is giving some of the new arrivals to the US a problem. They see it as "commit to change the rules to those of the countries they just left". People are welcome here but they do need to commit to follow the rules of the USE.

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    1. Certainly there is a period of assimilation and adjustment for new immigrants. But, yes, they are encouraged to work for what they believe as long as in the process they follow the rule of law as it is currently written.

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    2. See and as someone who works with immigrants, I see them simply wanting to respect culture within our laws. I find the people who don't think they have to follow the rules are long time Citizens (right now the vaccination thing and the occupation in Oregon come to mind). Sorry for the soap box.

      Seriously though, Number One especially. I am constantly amazed at people who believe something because someone said it, they saw it on Facebook or their neighbor said it was true. Just as an example (and I am NOT supporting congress) the regular drivel about some of the benefits they get (which they don't), makes me laugh. They get the same medical benefits I do, which is better than many Americans but that's because, believe it or not, the Federal government is good at negotiating and managing our medical care (how's that for a bomb to throw out there!)

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  4. I trust that you're referring to participation in all levels of government, including municipal and state, or in my case, provincial. Good followers can make good leaders, and I don't mean follow like a herd of sheep.

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    1. Yes, even local school boards, if appropriate. All those who have some say over our lives, for good and bad, need our vigilence, support, and participation.

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  5. Another great list, Bob. I think your first item is the linchpin that all the rest hinge on -- although being a retired educator may bias me. ;-) I want to emphasize two aspects of educating yourself: (1) you can't decide what you think and then go out to look for facts or evidence to support that position; you have to look at the evidence as dispassionately as possible in arriving at a position. (2) You can't arrive at a decision that's based on evidence unless you are willing to truly listen to those who disagree with you. That means being open to changing your mind or arriving at a compromise position that accommodates others' perspectives without giving up the integrity of your own. This fall, I read Danielle Allen's Our Declaration. Allen provides a close reading of the Declaration of Independence and of the process of disagreement, dialogue and compromise by which the founding fathers arrived at that document. It really inspired me to be a more engaged citizen. -Jean

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    1. That sounds like a fascinating book, Jean.

      Your points about what real education looks like are right on the money. Too often we look for someone or something to agree with us, rather than being open to a reassessment of a belief. It is hard for us to change. But, sticking with a position that is based on flawed information helps no one in the long run.

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  6. You have many valid points here. #1 is incredibly important. Civil debate is important to a free society and can only take place between those who are fully informed on an issue.
    I do take issue with #4.
    The one thing that came to mind with this one was the disagreement and disrespect of laws during the 1960's. "you occupy a federal building to protest a policy you find odious"~3, wasn't that the heart of some of the Vietnam protest? Sometimes you have to just stand up for what you believe, to bring about change. Thank God MLK went against the laws! Where would we be without the Dorthea Day or MalcomX or even Mother Teresa?
    Some may see more "radical right" people currently in the news- but they are bringing the information forward of the toxicity of certain "new and cool" vaccines(and sometimes water), or how the federal government is changing farming and land use for those who are not a part of huge (mostly foreign) corporations.
    Sometimes the most "radical" are bringing out the information that others just see as "normal". I may not agree with someone who is willing to break the law, but it does open my eyes to the issues.
    Civil disagreement is the heart of the first amendment.
    PS- I have yet to find an immigrant who wanted to break the laws. They may be here illegally, but the ones I knew only did that to have a better life for their families. The last thing they wanted was to rock the boat!

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    1. I understand your comment about point #4 in the post. Civil disobedience is an important part of our history. If you are going to break the laws, then you must be able to assume the consequences. I marched in Washington against the Vietnam war in the early 70's after getting out of the Army, but that was a legal expression of my beliefs. I didn't occupy the administration building at my college a few years earlier because I didn't see that as a productive action or one that was justified.

      The examples you note are probably legitimate exceptions to that commitment, after all, every rule has its exceptions. In a more general sense, as someone living in this country you must agree to follow the law. If we all just "did our own thing" and only followed the laws we agreed with this country would be a hopeless mess.

      I like your PS comment. That is important to note.

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