Character Corner: Citizenship – weekly musings, quotes and parenting tips from


Thirteen year old Katherine resents having to pick up and vacuum the basement playroom every Saturday morning.  She protests that she doesn’t even spend time down there – that all of the clutter and dirt are from her younger sisters, Jill and Jennifer.


To make matters worse, this Saturday at 11:00 is a Spring clean-up at the neighborhood park.  Normally the whole family goes, but as Katherine ramps up her outrage, her parents begin wavering.  All the things she says are true:  She has lots of homework.  Her friendssleep in on Saturdays.  Nobody else her age will be at the park. And the twins really are the ones who use the basement.

Katherine’s parents end up letting her stay home, but they don’t feel good about it.  As they leave the house they can hear Katherine angrily bumping the vacuum cleaner down the stairs.  They want their daughter to be a contributing member of the family and community, but they’re not quite sure how to balance this with time for friends and school.

What is Citizenship?

As social beings, humans tend to flourish only in community.  We depend on each other more than we realize.  There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman.  Citizenship means giving back to the communities of which we are a part, acknowledging our debt to both the living and to those who came before us.

We participate in the roles and tasks that must be filled for a healthy collective; whether that collective is a household, a nation-state, or something bigger. We do what needs doing rather than leaving it for someone else. We seek to elevate not only our own well being but the well being of all. Since home is the first place that we learn to rely on each other, this is where we begin learning what it means to live in community with others.

Five Quotes to Contemplate, Post and Discuss.

Just as the wave cannot exist for itself, but must always participate in the swell of the ocean, so we can never experience life by ourselves, but must always share the experience of life that takes place all around us. 
–Albert Schweitzer

You can’t be human alone.
–Margaret Kuhn

Genuine politics — even politics worthy of the name — the only politics I am willing to devote myself to — is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole.
–Vaclav Havel

Honest people know that the road to success and virtue always involves shared sacrifice, hard work, and gratification postponed.  Telling people otherwise isn’t leadership, it is pandering. 
– Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
–Margaret Mead

Bringing it home to your kids

1.  Remember, it takes three kinds of responsibilities for children to become well rounded citizens: taking care of themselves, giving back to the community of people who give to them, and serving people who can’t give back.  How is your child learning each of these?

2.  When you can, team up with your child to get a job done.  Dust the same room they are vacuuming.  Chop vegetables together.  Find service projects that they can do with friends.  Serving the community is a lot more fun when it’s done in community.

3.  As fitting, give your child a voice in the division of labor and in choosing service projects.  Not all jobs are fun, and sometimes as a parent you simply need to insist that something get done.  All the same, giving children options among tasks that need doing can help create a sense of ownership and commitment—especially as they approach the teen years.

4.  Create some kind of community service routine for your family, however intermittent or small.  Routine is the key word here.  Make community service part of “who we are” as a family.

5. Remember efficiency and effectiveness comes through practice.  When your child is young, it may be more work to have them help than to do tasks alone, but the only way for those tasks and activities to get easier is for your kid to have lots of opportunities for practice.

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