Forward Thinking: What Does Civic Responsibility Mean to You?

Our first prompt involves an issue that is, I think, too often left undiscussed. It is my suspicion that differing ideas about the nature of civic responsibility and what all it includes often underlie political differences in ways we do not always recognize. I believe that we as forward thinkers would benefit from bringing this issue out of the shadows and discussing it directly and enthusiastically. And so, without further ado, I give you this month’s Forward Thinking discussion question:

What does civic responsibility mean to you?

I want to invite readers to discuss this question in the comment section and to invite bloggers to respond on their own blogs. At the end of two weeks I will post a round-up of links and excerpts to both blog posts elsewhere and especially insightful comments here. Bloggers should email their links to lovejoyfeminism (at) gmail (dot) com with “Forward Thinking” in the subject line if they want to be included in the round-up.

Happy thinking and discussing!


Forward Thinking: A Values Development Project is an invitation to both readers and fellow bloggers to participate in forming positive values and grappling with thorny questions. Click here to read the project introduction.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Nea

    I think civic responsibility is my responsibility as a citizen to participate in and support the society that supports and protects me. This means at a minimum paying my taxes, obeying the law, and maintaining my property and should also mean finding ways to provide more active support to make my community safer, more beautiful, have a better infrastructure, more just laws, etc.

    • A Reader

      Agreed. I’d maybe also add being informed about issues & voting regularly.

      • Paul

        What about voting when there is no candidate you can in good conscience support. This is especially true when there is a gerrymandered district where only one party puts up a candidate. As well, should you vote for a third party candidate who really fits your beliefs or for one of the two dominant party’s candidates when neither comes close to your belief.

    • Nicoline Smits

      And also how your actions and choices affect the future: choosing to consume less, or walk instead of drive, borrow a book from the library instead of buying it, etc.

  • Truthspew

    I take the civic responsibility a little further. In addition to what Nea says I’m also VERY politically active. I like to call out local politicians who make ludicrous statements, or even talk to them to possibly make things better for the community I live in.

    It’s to the point where I’ve gotten under their skin in some instances. Good, I want them to be on their toes.

  • Mel

    I also think that taxes and not willfully breaking laws are part of civic responsibility. But I also believe that voting, jury duty and volunteering or contributing more than the minimum that you have to are other aspects of civic responsibility. Since I was a kid, my father would always tell my siblings and myself that voting is a serious responsibility that you should exercise if you are able, as often in smaller contests/tax levies, your vote really does matter and has the chance to shape your community.
    My mother, when I expressed distress at being pulled for jury duty for a criminal trial that would put me out of a week’s pay, told me that as a voting citizen it was my duty to participate in the jury process if I was called to. If there were ever circumstance I were ever involved in a trial by jury, it would be my trial taking people from their jobs, so it’s only fair that I not try and get out of it, and actually participate in the legal system when required.
    After high school, I became friends with many people who volunteer often, and that also shaped my ideas of what it means to be a responsible citizen. I think that this quote from ‘Middlemarch’ by George Eliot best describes my views on volunteering:
    “The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
    I will probably never make a historic impact on the world, but I can try and make it a slightly better place than I found it, and I think that in my very finite life, I have to at least try, because there were countless other people who tried to make the world better before I was born.

    • Nicoline Smits

      Would you agree that volunteering or staying at home can be just as important to the fulfillment of civic duty as working?

  • Slow Learner

    I think it starts at a very local level. Say hello to your neighbours. Our street feels like a nicer, safer place now we can put names to the lights in the windows and the people walking down the street. (And it’s easier to get help when there’s a problem) You can do that for the people near you!
    Giving to and volunteering for local charities is good, as is involvement in local cultural and artistic groups. Keeping these things going takes work, albeit less than starting them up, but they make a real difference.
    Moving to a larger scale is involvement in the political process. Attending council meetings; voting in all elections for which you are eligible; writing to, emailing, tweeting and meeting your local representatives on issues which concern you. All of it helps to keep them honest and working for their constituents.
    Then if you have time and inclination, upgrade to directly joining and helping advocacy groups and campaigns on issues that concern you.
    As well, of course, as helping your local schools and youth organisations as time and skills permit, looking after the elderly, and the environment.
    All of which is forgetting your own friends and family, as well as your job or studies! The upshot is, do as much as you can, without burning yourself out. If you can’t do it, support someone else. If you can’t support someone else, look after yourself. If you can’t look after yourself, seek help. And if the rest of us are doing our bit, someone will be there for you.

  • Nea

    Seeing the other responses, I have a slightly defensive urge to point out that I personally do *more* than what I listed as the minimum! But at heart, I think that what I listed is the bottom line of what civic responsibility means, and that it is up to each of us to determine what participation and support above the base line we can provide. Which can be a very variable thing – some years I’m all about throwing myself into the charities I support or the activism I do; some years I have my own drama and the minimum is all I’m capable of.

  • Lucreza Borgia

    “Be Excellent To Each Other” is about as far I have have seriously thought through for myself.

  • Lassou

    I’m hesitant to label paying taxes and obeying laws as “civic responsibility.” Responsibility implies a little bit more than just showing up, doing the bare minimum. We should be extremely well-informed. I think its our civic responsibility to know and to understand our whole society. My vote and my political efforts impact the lives of millions of people with vastly different life situations and needs than mine. I see it as my responsibility to work for the election of people who support all people’s needs, and to organize and petition and make phone calls when people are being neglected or abused by our institutions.

    • Nicoline Smits

      I agree. Doing your civic duty *can* mean that you choose not to pay your taxes or not to obey laws. In certain circumstances that can be a highly moral choice. For example, conscientious objectors in World War I. Under very exceptional conditions it can even be your civic duty to overthrow an existing government. But in our society the choices usually aren’t as stark as this.

      • Christine

        Civil disobedience as a civic duty? Makes sense to me, but I think that more people need to know how civil disobedience works. I’m really thinking we need to add “how to do protests effectively and ethically” to the standard civics curriculum.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    Everybody’s answers are excellent. I like Lassou’s point about being informed is an important point of civic responsibilities that gets forgotten sometimes.

    I also think that even if civic respobility is something we each do as a person, supporting our institutions and the state so they get sutff done is incredibly important (social security nets, …) and I think it’s sad we are always talking shit about politians (not that they don’t deserve it) and the government, .. and people lose faith in the system and stop trying to improve it which it’s what we always must strive for, not checking out because it fails and for example not voting.

    Well, I kinda went on a tangent as always :P

  • Tracey

    What about blood donation for those who meet the qualifications?

    • Slow Learner

      Yes! Well noted Tracey, blood donation (and platelets, bone marrow and other donations for those who are eligible) are to be strongly encouraged. For a little discomfort and care with your health, you can save lives, and keep doing it from young adulthood right through middle age. How amazing is that? :D

    • Nicoline Smits

      What about blood donations for those who *don’t* meet the criteria? As it stands now, I’m shut out of donating blood because I’m from Europe. My kids, born in Europe but raised in the U.S. from a very young age, can donate blood. I’ve tried several times to donate, but unless I’m willing to lie about it, they won’t take me, even though there is a great shortage of blood and blood products.

      • Nea

        I was shut out of donating to the hospital blood supply because of being in the UK for a long period of time. If you really want to donate, find a research hospital in the area and find out if they want blood for their studies – at one point, the NIH wouldn’t take my blood to give to others, but they were happy to get it for their own research.

  • lonedragon

    I think that the foundation of Buddhist practice covers it all. Compassion and Loving Kindness makes us good neighbors and good citizens to everyone .

  • Nicoline Smits

    Civic = Of or relating to a citizen, a city, citizenship, or community affairs
    Responsibility = a) moral, legal, or mental accountability; b) reliability, trustworthiness

    The definitions pretty much say it all. A citizen, i.e. the inhabitant of some defined polity as defined in a legal, moral, or mental manner is in some way accountable for the well-being of that polity. That means that it is not enough to just live and work somewhere. Just producing and income and paying your taxes is only the first step. You should also think about your footprint, not just as shorthand for being “green” but also with respect to how you affect the world and how it affects you.

    Of course it’s impossible to keep track of how your every move affects everybody else, but you should, ideally, try to leave your little corner of the world a better place than you found it. It can be something as big as overturning Jim Crow or as small as picking up trash along the side of the road. As small as telling the cashier he accidentally gave you back change from a $20 when you gave him a $10 to as big as fighting political corruption.

    And with that all you should keep in mind that you do not own the truth and that what someone else wants to see changed (or not changed) may be equally valid as your objectives. Also, the truth does not belong to whoever yells the loudest, so you should always try to make your point civilly. That allows you to engage in intellectual give-and-take so as to arrive at the best possible solution to a problem.

  • Paul

    I have tried to live up to my civic responsibilities by working in areas where I was needed rather than ones where I would make the most money. I also vote and have never shirked my responsibility to serve jury duty. I have thought about stepping up and running for public office, not as a career but more in the vein of public service, going in to accomplish things and then stepping aside for others to have their turn at it. I don’t want to become a power addict which I think has spoiled many good people who went into government for the right reasons and stayed for the wrong ones. I believe in being a good neighbor, working to make all of our lives better. I also believe that being a good parent, raising my son to also be a good citizen is probably the most important way to show civic responsibility.