Reader Asks What Makes A Good Citizen

To The Reader’s Forum:

Does anyone know when it stopped being “cool” to be a good citizen?

What? you say. I’m a good citizen. I love the American flag, I stand for the anthem, I go to parades and I always celebrate on patriotic holidays..

Well, a lot of people can make those claims, but it goes deeper than that.

We are a nation of laws, so first and foremost, good citizens know the laws and why we have them, from the U.S. Constitution (which sets down the framework for our government and enumerates our basic rights) to the statutes that prohibit shooting your neighbor and stealing his car, all the way down to the local ordinances that require you to pick up after your dogs and not leave messes for other people to step in.

Good citizens respect and support the institutions that have kept this country standing for over two centuries, including law enforcement, the justice system, and the free and unfettered press.

Good citizens pay their taxes so we can maintain our order, educate our people and care for them when they are sick and frail. Good citizens participate and vote.

Are our laws and institutions perfect? Of course not. But if you find a cockroach, you call in an exterminator; you don’t burn the whole dang house down. There are processes for improving imperfect things without destroying our entire civilization and creating chaos. If you don’t understand why order is necessary, then perhaps you should try living for a while in a country that doesn’t have any functioning order, like Honduras or Somalia, and see how you like having roving gangs of criminals going through your village murdering and pillaging with impunity and nobody doing anything to stop it.

Okay then. Besides laws, there are also unwritten rules for good citizenship that someone should have taught you while you were growing up. Rules that tell you to clean up after yourself, not to throw cigarette butts on the ground or stick your chewing gum under the desk, to pitch in and help when somebody needs a hand, to show respect for yourself and other people by not being “edgy” and vulgar just to draw attention to yourself, to turn off lights when you leave a room, and to put the lid on the garbage can to keep animals out of it. And always, always leave a place better than you found it.

That’s what good citizenship is. Most people should be able to handle it. So can we please stop emulating the bad influences we see on TV and just try to be decent human beings and responsible members of our community? Maybe with practice, we would be good at it. Maybe we would remember that we’re all in this together.

Susan Meara