As July 4th approached, I was reflecting on the state of our country. JFK’s famous exhortation from his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for our country,” popped into my mind.
In lieu of recent events, one could look at the first part of that quote and conclude that what little we have asked for from our country has been denied. Rights have been taken away, we show little regard for preserving our planet or protecting our democracy. This view undoubtedly can lead to frustration and even despair.
But what of the second part of his admonition? What can we do for our country? Or, what have we already done?
When I reflect upon my own life and what I have done for my country vs. what it has done for me, I’m afraid it may be an uneven ledger.
I have benefited from freedoms and rights that frankly have not been denied or taken away as they have for others. I have received a great education, economic opportunities and as a result have achieved a degree of success that belies my starting point in life. I am healthy and happy – both due in part to the environment and country in which I live. In all these regards, I know I am privileged relative to many, many others.
So what have I done for my country? Well I pay taxes, vote, obey the law, follow the rules. This is the very floor of citizenry. But what is its ceiling?
I have not served in the military or in government (although I have worked for government organizations.) Much of my work has been engaged in the world of social change but if I were honest, that work has been dedicated to helping people or certain communities. By extension this may be helping our country but it is not particularly focused on that as a primary objective.
When we consider how we make decisions, we may ask ourselves consciously or unconsciously – is this good for me? Is it good for my family? Maybe, it is good for my friends or communities? Politically, some may ask, “Is it good for my party?” Others may ask “Is this good for my business?” But do we ever ask “Is this good for our country?”
If we ignore this last question or put this question last, is it any wonder that collectively we are frustrated by the state of our nation?
In thinking about what it means to be a good citizen, I found this definition from the organization Citizen University: “Citizenship is about participating and taking responsibility for the good, the bad, and the ugly of our society.”
Taking responsibility for the good, the bad and the ugly. Ouch.
Like it or not, our country is just that, “our country.”
So what will you do for it?
This short article gives a nice starting point. A way to step out of the cynicism and into citizenship.
Maybe it will inspire you to take action. Consider your actions as a belated birthday present to your country – even if you don’t think it deserves one this year.