I had never thought about this question until I read a recent report from the Pew Research Center. Although we can have a good idea of what it takes to be a good student (go to class, do all the readings and assignments), a good parent (take care of your child’s physical and emotional well-being as much as you can), and a good friend. (spend time together, listen to each other, support each other), there are no obvious answers to how to be a good member of society.
That alone says it all. In a society characterized by individualism, or the notion that we are separate rather than interdependent, we may focus more on being a good person or on our relationships with each other, but rarely on being a good member of the greater whole. Even as a sociologist, I rarely think about what makes a person a good member of society.
As a professor, I spend a lot of time thinking about and sharing how to be a good student, especially in the curriculum and some of the videos I share with students, and I occasionally give advice to colleagues on how to be a good student. good instructors. I sometimes share ideas on how to be a good relationship partner (but only when asked) and have talked with family members about what makes a good adult child for an aging parent. But many of us don’t often think about being a good member of society.
The results from the Pew Research Center are interesting. During the first 2022 they surveyed nearly 21,000 people in nineteen rich countries over six months. Voting in elections (73% rated it as very important) was the top response globally, followed by climate change mitigation (63%) and the COVID vaccine. (57 percent).
Of course, the results varied from country to country. While 42 percent of Americans said mitigating climate change was very important, that figure was lower than all but two other nations; three countries rated it as the majority an important aspect of being a good citizen (Spain – 77%, Italy – 76% and Belgium – 64%).
Even within the same countries, there are differences by age (older people tend to think voting is more important), gender (women consider climate change more important than men) and political affiliation (those who identify as conservative are more likely to think religious attendance is very important important for good citizenship).
So while we may not be able to agree on what it means to be a good citizen, just as we disagree on what it means to be a good child, parent, romantic partner, or colleague, we can at least begin to think about it.
Some other good aspects of citizenship in the Pew study included being involved in domestic politics (37 percent of Americans rated it very important) and international politics (22 percent) and participating in public demonstrations (13 percent).
While these are just a few possible examples of good citizenship, other things come to mind when thinking about this issue. This is by no means exhaustive and may not be on everyone’s good citizenship list, but here are a few to add:
- Be kind, especially to those we encounter in our retail and public responsibilities;
- Treat others as we would like others to treat us;
- We try not to react to others with anger when we are angry, frustrated or upset;
- Extend a helping hand to a person in need and support organizations that do this regularly;
- Doing something (whether as part of your job, hobby or volunteering) that contributes to improving the lives of others;
- Understanding people with different life experiences and understanding their perspectives (see Weber’s concept to understand);
- Consider the greater good when voting for policies and candidates (not just those that serve our personal interests);
- If possible, stay at home when sick and take measures not to infect others;
- Pick up any trash we may leave, indoors or outdoors;
- Minimize littering whenever possible, especially when things can end up in landfills;
- Consider the labor practices of the companies we cover and try to spend your money where employees are treated fairly.
Yes, my list is based mostly on small-scale interpersonal interactions, but that doesn’t mean that small changes can’t make a big difference—although it clearly reflects growing up in a society that emphasizes individualism. What’s on your list for good citizenship?
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