Being a good citizen was a big deal when we were kids!
I was 10 in 1958, separated by only 13 years from World War II where my father fought and was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. For his whole life, he got tears in his eyes when the flag went by. Patriotism and love of country were more than words to all who had lived through that war – something that rubbed off on us, the first generation born after the war.
The idea of being a good citizen was a big deal. In fact, we even got a grade for it in school. What was later called “conduct” was then called “citizenship.” We started our school day with the Pledge of Allegiance, and we were all required to take Civics to learn about our representative form of government and how it worked.
Sandra Day O’Connor
I agree with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that we should be talking more about the importance of citizenship in our schools, but what can we do beyond that to be good citizens and support our democratic way of life? The Honorable Lee H. Hamilton has written a great article titled “What Does it Mean to be an American Citizen?” Many of the suggestions below come from this article. Others are my own.
So what can we do to be good citizens?
This has nothing to do with politics. Good citizens come from both parties!
- Begin with gratitude. You and I are so lucky that we were born in this country in the 20th Century. Realize that America is never “finished.” Our way of government is a continual experiment that reflects the “will of each generation.” We must realize that its continuation is not guaranteed.
- Brush up on the basics. It doesn’t hurt to spend a little time reading the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They are not just words on a page – to be bandied about by whatever political party needs them. They are living breathing documents upon which our whole way of life is based.
- Stay informed about issues in our communities and our country. It’s hard to be a good citizen without knowing what’s going on. Beware of the bias of those delivering the “news.” It might just be opinion, or it might not even be true. Check the facts.
- Run for elective office or work for candidates of your choice. Particularly locally. President Obama was once just a community organizer, and President Trump was once just a business man.
- Vote and hold your representatives accountable with phone calls, e-mails, attendance at town meetings, etc. Start a petition or a letter-writing campaign. Good citizenship doesn’t stop at the ballot box.
- Join the Peace Corps or the military or non-profit organizations. Care for our citizens. Take care of a neighbor who needs some help.
- Accept jury duty and be willing to act as a witness if necessary. Justice is essential to good governance. It doesn’t happen if people aren’t engaged.
- Join organizations or parties that reflect your own views. Work hard, but realize that both sides have good ideas, and nothing will happen if we don’t work together for the common good.
- Check your cynicism at the door. We can be a better nation. We just need to believe that we can.
Engagement is the secret!
“Good citizenship and defending democracy means living up to the ideals and values that make this country great.”
The secret to good citizenship is engagement. Share with us how you are engaged with your community. We’d love to hear about it.