*Editor’s note: This is the third in a three part series examining what it means “To be a citizen.”
Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the state of citizenship — what it is, what it used to be and what we should expect from our civic leaders. Now the time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of other things: of you — and me — and everyman — duty, among other things. (Apologies to Lewis Carroll).
It’s said that we get the government we deserve. So if we’re dissatisfied with the government we have, what must we do to make it better? Lots of things.
Citizenship doesn’t spring full-blown from your forehead; it’s something we learn and nurture. A line from an old Crosby, Stills, and Nash song is a good place to start: “Teach your children well…”
Lessons learned at the knee of dad or mom, usually at the dinner table or while watching the evening news or reading the newspaper, sink in if done over the years. Every active citizen I’ve ever encountered has such a story in his or her past.
Our children will become citizens no better or worse than the models they have before them. What should our kids know, and when should they know it?
I’m of the school that says it’s never too soon, too early. When my oldest was a baby, I would take him into the voting booth and explain why I voted for this candidate or against that tax increase.
Dinner table conversation was sharp and lively, not just on the issues of the day, but also the great issues of history – as much was learned by them about the Civil War while spuds were being passed as was drummed in their sweet little ears in a classroom.
Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk – and walk it with conviction, without expectation and with the lightest step possible – former Vice President Hubert Humphrey wasn’t called The Happy Warrior for nothing.
Remember the inaugural call of President John Kennedy upon our lives: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” We’re not comfortable these days with the concept of duty, but each one of us who lives in the United States has a duty to live up to the heritage passed down to us and honor the sacrifices made for us since the founding of the Republic.
A few days ago, we celebrated Memorial Day – no other holiday is more grounded in that message. It’s a shame it’s now just another three-day holiday.
Don’t be afraid to challenge the established order, but in so doing don’t expect to be treated well or appreciated for your effort – a prophet has no honor — ask Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Tim Eyman.
A friend – at times a co-warrior – personifies these virtues. Watching her father and grandfather take stands and get involved taught her the value and necessity of doing likewise.
She told me recently:
“I think far too many (people) are content to let others take up the fight and trudge forward. They don’t want to part with their time to learn more about a subject or get involved. We must teach our children that this is our community and to make it best, we need to get involved.”
Called by her husband the unofficial Mayor of Finn Hill, she was on the front line when Tent City 4 came to town – where I met her – and now she is in the annexation fight, albeit not on my side.
She volunteers with the homeless, sees to it that her son keeps up with his piano lessons and considers it her responsibility to teach him both civics and the values he will need as a grown man.
But she would be mortified if anyone praised her name or trumpeted her accomplishments – she does what she does to make a difference, not a reputation.
Now that is a citizen.
~Scott St. Clair plays his bagpipe and looks at the world from his Kirkland home. Learn about him at www.scottstclair.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.