What Is Good Citizenship?

Geisha A. Legazpi

There are many views as to what good citizenship entails, but it is generally defined as how a citizen performs a role to become a useful member of society. This involves duties and responsibilities that may be expressed through laws and regulations, or implied through the recognition of right and wrong. Citizenship, in its general sense, is being part of a community, with the person acquiring the privileges and responsibilities of such citizenship. Particular emphasis must be made on the fact that citizenship is a privilege, and its grant is left to the discretion of the state whose citizenship is being sought.

Thomas Hobbes wrote about a "social contract", which is the set of unwritten rules and expectations for which members of a society are expected to comply.
Thomas Hobbes wrote about a "social contract", which is the set of unwritten rules and expectations for which members of a society are expected to comply.

Good citizenship lies mostly in the recognition that members of a community must work together to improve their lives and enhance their relationship with one another. Essential factors toward achieving this include doing volunteer work, initiating community programs, and participating in economic affairs. Some countries recognize the importance of knowing and understanding what good citizenship entails, and have created citizenship education programs. Education promotes good judgment, thus it is considered an essential factor for good citizenship.

A good citizen is an indispensable part of a progressive state. As covered by the social contract theory, a government is established to manage interaction among citizens, define an individual’s rights, enforce these rights, and make sure just compensation is obtained when these rights are violated. In turn, the citizens hand over to the government the powers that may limit some freedom. The purpose of this social contract is to avoid chaos in a community, which is possible without good leadership. From this leadership arises good citizenship, allowing every citizen to expect others to accord respect for his or her legally demandable rights.

There are many characteristics of good citizenship, but the most basic is the moral duty to recognize the rights of others and take care not to infringe upon them. Another important characteristic is the ability to listen to the views of others, because from these views may spring solutions to problems deliberated upon by the community. A good citizen is also willing to adapt to new situations, as well as make quick decisions in matters that need immediate attention. Furthermore, a good citizen knows and obeys the laws of the land, for he or she acknowledges that laws are promulgated with his or her welfare in mind. Based on these factors, good citizenship is said to utilize both the intellectual and social skills of a citizen.

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Discussion Comments

I just want to point out that sometimes a person needs to commit acts of civil disobedience in order to be a good citizen.

I don't think, for example, that Rosa Parks was being a bad citizen when she decided to disobey the law. I think that the line isn't completely clear of course (some people may unfortunately believe that being in the KKK is being a good citizen for example).

I guess it really depends on your definition of the word citizen.

@umbra21 - There have been some fascinating studies about this, where they've tried to emulate hunter-gatherer societies, where it would make much more sense to be someone who just capitalizes on other people's work without working yourself.

They usually discover that people (or animals) who try to avoid being a "good citizen" will be found out and often disproportionately punished. So, it's probably in our genes to try and be good and reliable within a group, since we all know how to punish anyone who isn't.

I've always thought of this as something that people need to strive for, but not necessarily be happy doing it. I mean, spending time in volunteer work doesn't sound like the most fun thing to do.

But I recently realized that whenever I have too much leisure time, I actually start getting depressed. I'm happier when I've got something to do and some kind of goal, as well as when people rely on me for something.

So, I do wonder if I've been thinking about this the wrong way. Being a good citizen is not something that basic human nature struggles against, but actually something that works well with the human spirit and natural instincts.

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