Slimantics: Are we becoming a nation of lousy citizens?

 

Slim Smith

 

 

What does it mean to be a good citizen? Better yet, what is required for someone to fit that description? 

 

When you ask most folks that question, you'll get a predictable list -- don't cheat on your taxes, support the military and law enforcement, obey the laws, follow the rules, stand for the national anthem, fly the American flag proudly from your home, go to church, give to charity. 

 

Not everyone will have the same list, of course, but generally you'll find all of the above listed regularly. 

 

But a person who checks all those boxes can still fail to meet the standard. 

 

That's because the most important requirement rarely makes it onto the list. 

 

Can you guess what that is? We are seeing an example of that play out before our eyes. 

 

Thursday, the Mueller Report on the investigation of Russia's attempt to influence the 2016 Presidential election was released, albeit heavily redacted. 

 

Of course, long before its release, there was much discussion in the media and on social networks about what the report would or would not say. Some said the report would vindicate the President. Others said it would condemn him. 

 

Since the release of the report, there's be an avalanche of commentary on what is contained in the report and what it means, Ordinary Americans were already weighing in great numbers within just hours of the report's release. 

 

But how many have actually read the report? In all probability, relatively few. In fact, it is likely that only a small fraction of citizens will ever read it, even though it is readily available. 

 

And that, friends, is a sure sign that we have failed to live up to our obligation as citizens. 

 

Many worry that our nation hasn't been this bitterly divided since the Civil War and point the finger of blame in any number of directions. 

 

But if we continue on this path, we have only ourselves to blame because we have not fulfilled our greatest obligation as citizens -- to be informed. 

 

Instead, we look to other sources, most often those which confirm our own biases, even when we have easy access to the unadorned facts. 

 

There are many countries where citizens are not afforded that opportunity we enjoy. They have access only to the information their government permits them to have. 

 

How shameful is it, then, that we so often take that freedom for granted? 

 

Jefferson wrote long ago that a well-informed citizenry "can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights." 

 

It's about time we started fulfilling that obligation. 

 

If you have something to say about the Mueller Report, have the integrity to read it first. Otherwise, you are simply adding to the noise and have nothing to contribute to the discussion worthy of consideration. 

 

Then, apply that same approach broadly. 

 

Have an opinion on how our state government is operating? Call your representative. Press them on issues. Find out where they stand. Hold them accountable. 

 

Have a view on city government? Fine. When was the last time (if ever) you attended a city council meeting? When was the last time you called the mayor or a city council member to learn more about an issue? What effort, really, have you made? 

 

Want to make an pronouncement about the state of your schools? Attend a school board meeting. Ask questions. Talk to teachers, parents, principals, administrators. Inform yourself. Know what you are talking about, then -- and only then -- will you have something relevant to say. 

 

You would certainly be disappointed if your child did not do his homework nor study before a test. The result would be predictable, as would be the consequences. 

 

Should we not hold ourselves to that same standards as adult citizens? 

 

When we make honest efforts to inform ourselves rather than relying wholly on those who seek to color our views, we are better citizens and a stronger nation. 

 

That's not too much to ask. In fact, that is a basic requirement of a good citizen. 

 

Ask yourself, honestly: How well do you meet that standard?

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]

 

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