What does it mean to be a citizen? What should a citizen of this world, this country, this state, your community, your family be?
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Being a citizen implies rights and responsibilities, whether you are a citizen of the world, your country, your state, your community, or your family. The rights and responsibilities are different for each "community" you belong to, but no matter which community you belong to as a citizen, you have the right to fully participate in that group, and you have the responsibility to participate fully, to be informed about that group, to care for the other members of that group, and to care for the world in which the group lives.
What does this mean in practical, everyday terms? As a citizen of the world, you should have human rights and a voice in international matters. You have the responsibility to care for the world, so our environment can be preserved or improved for future generations. You have the responsibility to care for and about other citizens of the world and to have an understanding of their cultures, histories, and ideas. As a citizen of your country, you have all the rights of the Constitution of the United States and its Amendments. You have the right and the responsibility to fully participate in our democratic process by being knowledgeable of that process and voting. You also have the responsibility of affording respect to your fellow citizens and their different cultures and ideas. As a citizen of your state, your rights and responsibilities are much like those you have as a citizen of your country. However, your rights emanate from your state's Constitution. As a citizen of a community, your rights and responsibilities are more local and personal. Caring for your environment and others in your community is a more immediate responsibility, for example, by recycling, by picking up litter on your street, or by volunteering at a local food bank. Voting in local elections is a right and a responsibility, too. As a citizen of a family, your rights and responsibilities are the most immediate and personal. You have the responsibility of making a contribution to your family. This need not be a financial contribution, but a contribution of work or attention. You have the right to have contributions from others in the family, too, and a voice in family decision-making.
At the smallest level of citizenship, it is easy to see what the rights and responsibilities are, and as we move out larger circles of community, it becomes more difficult to know what we should do. But the principles are the same, whether we are citizens of a family or citizens of the world. We are obligated to care for the people and environment, whether that be three people or 3 billion people, and whether that be the sidewalk in front of a house or the polar icecaps.
Being a citizen has rights, but I wouldn't say it has responsibilities. You have the right to vote, etc., but you don't have to use those rights. Nor do you have to partake in other civic "duties." There are penalties for not paying taxes, avoiding taxes, etc., but a person who is a citizen accepts the fact that they have to follow the laws, or they can accept the consequences.
I couldn't disagree more that being a citizen doesn't have responsibilities.
How can it be that a person should enjoy freedom but do nothing to protect it?
How can it be that a person should enjoy beautiful green spaces and clean waters but do nothing to preserve them?
I could go on endlessly. Anyone who doesn't want to do their share to preserve, protect and strengthen the community doesn't deserve to benefit from it.
A citizen is basically a member of a group of people represented by an entity like a city, a state, a country, or the whole world. A citizen has certain rights conferred upon him and her by the group by virtue of being a member of the group.
The concept of citizenship has been developed by civilized societies to promote cooperative living.
Whether or not the society, specifies any responsibility for its citizen, there always one very important responsibility implicit in the rights conferred. That is the responsibility to not to infringe upon the citizenship rights of the other.
Another important thing about the rights and responsibility - the society confers and acknowledges the right of individuals, but this does not mean that an individual will practically enjoy all the rights automatically. The individual has the responsibility and duty to try and protect his or her rights when infringed by others.
Citizenship means different things in different countries of residence. Citizenship in the United States is a precious, blessed gift for those of us fortunate enough to have been born here, and prized highly by those who are born elsewhere and earn American citizen status.
U.S. citizenship carries several valuable rights. However, it is the citizen's choice whether to exercise responsibilities beyond the basic requirements of payment of taxes & refraining from criminal activity.
In response to Post # 6, yes it is individual's choice to exercise or not exercise a particular responsibility. But we must also recognize that it is irresponsible behavior to not to exercise one's responsibility.
The word "citizen" derives from "denizen." A denizen is one who inhabits a particular area; it appears that citizen was more specific in meaning and originally was one who inhabited a particular city. Perhaps the intent of the question is "what does it mean to be a member of..." What's interesting is that people's responses here have attributed rights and responsibilities to being a citizen. I wonder if the responses would have been different had 'citizen' been replaced with 'member of.' Rights are intrinsic to existence; by virtue of birth, you have rights. The exercise of those rights is freedom. Privileges are additional freedoms that may be granted or revoked. It's important for those living in the US to understand that the intent of the Constitution was not to grant inhabitants rights; quite the other way round -- the Constitution was written to define and limit government, so that a sovereign individual could be free to exercise his or her rights.
Whatever member level of the world, country, state, community, or family one chooses, there's no implicit responsibility or obligation to do anything, except to not impact the rights of another. Those that suggest otherwise are infringing on one's right to choose to do nothing, should one so choose.
@ enotechris: I am reasonably sure that citizen is derived from the Latin civitas, via the French cite (city). Regardless, I agree wholeheartedly with your explanation of rights vis-a-vis responsibilities.
In response to post # 8:
It is fine to choose to do nothing, as long as you also choose not to share the fruits of labours of those who choose to do something. A person who is not actively involved in protecting and furthering the rights of others in the society, should not expat others to protect his or her rights.
Being a citizen means to vote in elections, volunteer in your community, and to educate oneself on the issues within your local community, national community, and world community. Being a citizen means to be concerned, and to care about the world around you, and then act on the problems and become apart of the solution. The worst thing a person can do especially in America is to say "why bother voting, I am only one vote, that will not make a difference." Voting apathy will tear down a democracy. Everything that our fore fathers have fought for would die if the majority of Americans decided their vote was not important. A strong minority can make more of a difference than the majority, and that is the beauty in America. We are a country of change, and most of the changes in our history started in a small community. Being citizen means to have faith in your community and to keep helping it to progress.
Citizenship: We used to teach it as a subject! We thought it was important to make students understand that we're all in this together and everybody has a part to play. I guess we still teach the principles of citizenship, except we call it other things, like "Value of the Week." Rights and responsibilities . . . I can't imagine one without the other. It seems to me that claiming rights without accepting corresponding responsibilities is selfish and egocentric. In regard to our role as U.S. citizens, I would suggest that in a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people," the people (that now would be you and I) had better step up to the plate. Remember the rest of that sentence?
To be a citizen means you get the rights of where you live. It means you are born there or have the rights to live there. You get the vote, and basically a lot of freedom that non-citizens can't. Citizenship isn't by race but by where you're born or if you apply for it.
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