Wednesday, May 29, 2024
From My Front Porch

We have rights but we also have responsibilities


We are all fortunate to live in a country where we have a Constitution that was written by some of the brightest minds in human history. Those gentlemen had the foresight and wisdom to create a document that recognizes the inalienable rights of its citizens. They created a balance of power where no one entity could become authoritarian over the other bodies of power, or its citizens. The founding fathers were some smart dudes. Think how smart they would have been if women had also been in the room!

One should stop for just a second and recognize that at the time the Constitution was written how foreign its concepts were to most of humanity. Previously, the established government, kings and queens, for example, had all the authority and they retained it. Citizens in such a world were “free” only in the sense of what the ruling body said they could do. There had to be specific permission granted to the citizen, and, short of that, the assumption was the citizen had no right to act. All power was vested in the governing body.

With the U.S. Constitution this all changed. Suddenly, citizens had the right of free speech, to freely assemble, to demonstrate, and freedom of religion. Citizens did not have to prove they were entitled or deserved a right; the government had to show a compelling reason why any such God-given right was to be curtailed, even in the slightest way. Certainly, this was a novel idea for its time, and an idea which places an enormous amount of responsibility on its citizens.

In the golden days of the monarchy, the kings of France or England simply dictated to their citizens what they should think and how they should act. If any one protested or resisted the monarch, the usual consequence for the violator was death or, at the least, lengthy imprisonment. In some ways, this made life simple and direct. The governing source laid down the law, citizens followed the law, or they suffered the consequences.

Under the U.S. Constitution, citizens have rights, and they have the power of the vote to shape policies and actions. This places a huge responsibility upon each citizen to know what is happening in their community, to utilize their rights of free speech, and assembly to meet and talk about issues, and then make a wise and thoughtful decision on how to vote. As citizens, we have an obligation to each other and to those citizens who come after us to ensure we are operating in such a way to make sure the rights of all citizens are protected; to create a livable society where all citizens have an opportunity to grow, to thrive, and to live in peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, over the last 20 or 30 years, there seems to have been a shift from citizens having a responsibility for their own governance to allowing others to govern for us.

I hear people talk about citizenship in terms of what is best for them individually, with little concern about what is good for the community or nation. There is little movement to find solutions or to make reasonable concessions to opposing views. Our government becomes bogged down, because a few wish to impose their will on the many to accomplish a self-serving goal. The recent sessions of our state legislature are a tribute to such thinking.

It is fine to have an opinion for or against a school bond. Hopefully, the decision is based on discernment and critical thinking, and not simply based on the notion of “I don’t want to pay taxes irrespective of the need or demand of the community.”

We citizens must understand we each have a role to play. To be a true citizen, we must think beyond ourselves and imagine what is best for our community in the long run. What will help us build a better community? What will create a next generation which will live to see our nation become stronger, more responsive to the needs of her populace? What sacrifices must we make of our time and of our resources to ensure a quality of life for the generations to come? Isn’t there a base, a threshold, where we must take action to make sure our children are educated and prepared for the quickly changing world? Didn’t citizens in the generations before us make those same decisions on our behalf, and isn’t that why we had a schoolhouse to attend and teachers to educate us? Don’t we want better for our children, rather than the bare minimum?

Citizenship should be about receiving the benefits of an ordered society, but also about contributing our time and resources to make society better. It is the American way. It is what has made us the greatest country in the history of the world. Occasional sacrifice is the rent we pay for the rights we have. It is not just about “me” but about all of us and those who come after us.

Thought for the day: the betterment of society is not a job to be left to a few. It’s a responsibility to be shared by all.

Until next time…I will keep ridin’ the storm out.