The idea of America evokes thoughts of freedom and being a member of society. As members, we possess the ability to vote and freely express ourselves. These privileges are automatically granted to individuals born in America, giving them citizenship. However, citizenship also comes with responsibilities like obeying laws and fulfilling tax obligations. Consequently, conforming to these guidelines raises the issue of whether one can be considered an effective citizen. Addressing this question is challenging due to various factors that will be further examined in this paper. Determining what constitutes effective citizenship has proven difficult as I revised multiple drafts. Ultimately, there are several aspects that encompass effective citizenship and its definition varies among individuals and evolves over time. This paper aims to explore how the concept of effective citizenship differs among people and throughout different periods while presenting my personal beliefs on what defines effective citizenship.
Being an American citizen involves both rights and responsibilities. The rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (Jefferson, 352), were established by Thomas Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence. Alongside these rights come obligations to ourselves and our nation. As citizens, we must be willing to make sacrifices for the common good. These sacrifices include paying taxes and abiding by laws. By contributing a portion of our hard-earned money to the government, we support improvements in schools and infrastructure like roads. Moreover, these funds enable essential services from police and fire departments that play a vital role in our daily lives.
While some may view obeying laws as sacrificing their freedom in a state of nature (Locke pgs., 170-171; 180-186), living in society requires accepting this reality as a necessary cost. Abraham Lincoln emphasized the need for every citizen to make sacrifices towards achieving a more perfect union. Fulfilling these duties not only benefits oneself but also others – it is one aspect of being a responsible citizen, even though it does not encompass the complete definition.
The question is whether fulfilling these responsibilities truly makes someone a good citizen. Simply obeying laws and paying taxes, does that define a good or effective citizen? In my opinion, it depends on how each individual defines effective citizenship. Different people have different beliefs and values that shape their definition of it. For example, one person may believe being a good citizen means obeying major laws like those against murder and theft, as well as paying taxes. They consider themselves a good citizen if they meet these requirements. Another person might argue that a good citizen must adhere to all laws, including social norms like refraining from public obscenities. Upbringing and surroundings greatly influence one’s perception of citizenship. A right-wing nationalist raised in a strict family may believe sacrificing their life for the country or engaging in violence is the only way to be an effective citizen. On the other hand, an average person may think good citizens uphold laws and actively participate in their community. “Effective citizenship” can have various meanings; every interpretation is valid as long as it differs from person to person.
Another aspect of effective citizenship is the time period in which it is examined. For instance, in the 1960s, an effective citizen was someone who would fight and potentially sacrifice their life for their country. Conversely, those who protested against the war and the draft were often perceived as bad citizens. However, nowadays, we might regard these protesters as effective citizens, exercising their right to freedom of speech. Similarly, during the 1940s and 1950s, women may have considered themselves good citizens by solely fulfilling the role of housewives – taking care of household chores and supporting their working husbands. However, contemporary society may view this situation as sexist and argue that it withheld her rights as a citizen, preventing her from pursuing equal opportunities. Our perspectives on effective citizenship are influenced by society, which is constantly shaped by the passage of time.
In this discussion, I will share my personal thoughts and ideas on the qualities required to be an efficient citizen. It is crucial for individuals to acquire knowledge about their rights and demonstrate respect towards oneself and others. Offering sincere respect is essential as one cannot expect to receive respect if they are being hypocritical, such as trespassing on someone’s property and expecting them not to do the same. Additionally, expressing one’s feelings through peaceful protests or writing to their local representative is important for a good citizen. Being aware of the issues prevalent in their community and country, like participating in a town council meeting, provides insight into new ordinances that could potentially impact their neighborhood. The most significant aspect of being an effective citizen is exercising the right to vote. Voting plays a crucial role in being an active and responsible citizen; refraining from voting means refraining from complaining when desired outcomes are not achieved. Lastly, good citizens should adhere to the laws established by the government.
The framers of the Constitution envisioned that individuals would follow the law and be given the right to a trial by jury if accused of breaking it. Being chosen for juries was seen as a responsibility of being a good citizen. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., known for successfully bringing about governmental change, is an example of effective citizenship. He identified societal problems, rallied others to join him, followed legal processes, and achieved significant transformation in the country. Dr. King is widely recognized as one of America’s most influential citizens who embodies effective citizenship.
As an American citizen yourself, you have certain rights; however, fulfilling your duties such as voting and attending meetings is also crucial for becoming an effective citizen.
“Good Citizens are responsible and accountable for their actions and the results of their actions. They have characteristics of honesty, integrity and respect for the lives, opinions and property of others. They are actively involved in the community in which they live….” (Time Magazine, 95)
“The development of good citizens is vital to the well-being of every community. A community’s future depends largely on the number and quality of productive, law-abiding citizens who are committed and prepared to serve their community….”
- Bloom, Lynn and White, Edward. Inquiry. Boston: Blair Press, 1993.
- Somerville, John and Santoni, Ronald.
- Social and Political Philosophy. New York: Doubleday, 1963
- Jefferson, Thomas. Declaration of Independence. Philadelphia, 1776.