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"We seem destined to continually surprise each other."

Any conversation broaching the topic of good citizenship seems destined to follow the same sorry trail that conversations about being a good christian usually take, and that trail tends to terminate in irresolvable recriminations within which no citizen, good or otherwise, ever feels very good about themselves. They lean toward the Thou Shalts, which all by themselves seem antithetical to anything other than the dominion of some authority over everyone else; hardly anyone's idea of civility. When I speak of good citizenship, I intend to speak more of the I Wills, the rather personal covenants I hold myself responsible for abiding by, whether or not anyone else even knows that I hold them. For citizenship seems a painfully personal proposition, the never fully resolved answers to the question, "What will I agree to do for the mutual benefit of everyone else?", not what society demands that I contribute. Good citizenship never was a matter of simply obeying the law, but of abiding within it, which sometimes seems to demand working hard to change it or even to civilly disobey it. Like I said, it's a personal thing, but a personal thing writ larger than any individual.

It's a personal thing in context, that context being innumerable others also pursuing their personal things, the boundaries of each person's pursuit essentially undefinable but not necessarily indiscernible, for each individual seems first free to attend to those surrounding them, to respect their space and reasonably expect them to respect your space in return.
I watch a flight of starlings and I see a perfect model of civility. Each individual within the swarm seems equally determined to get some discretely undefinable somewhere but no individual ever slams into any other. Within the swirl, some simple rules seem to sustain individual freedom of flight without infringing upon the same right for any other. I suspect that each bird maintains a watchful eye on every other surrounding them and maintains a civil distance between, whatever that might mean. Together, they turn and twist, swoop and dive without ever once seeming to try to inhibit or guide anyone but themselves. That's what TheGoodCitizen seems to do.

Maybe it's just a matter of respect, but not the superficial tribal respect that those all of a kind might naturally observe toward each other. For me, TheGoodCitizen presumes respect without withholding it while impatiently awaiting any other to demonstrate some worthiness of receiving it. With the tacit understanding that I might not hold the right or the responsibility to judge anyone very harshly, maybe especially myself, I do something other than simply withhold my judgement, but at least attempt to transcend it, even when (maybe, especially when) encountering some subliminal gross violation that somehow deeply offends my always over-delicate moral sensibilities. Some firmly believe that those tattoo sleeves look becoming. Who am I to deny another citizen respect for their apparent absence of fashion sense. They could be equally scathing about my hairstyle or lifestyle. Who am I to judge?

As a practical matter, TheGoodCitizen might need to do nothing but pursue happiness without unduly encumbering anyone else's ability to pursue their heart's delight. No guarantee of actually achieving that happiness exists, and grudges for not having (yet) achieved any pursued happiness never help achieve it. The Muse speaks of the need for developing a well-formed conscience, a palette for parsing the proffered shit from the offered Shinola®. As Mark Twain quipped, the primary difference between a jackass and a human lies in the fact that there are some things that jackasses just won't do. Humans were not so natively blessed, and so seem to struggle to restrain their feral urges. The well-formed conscience serves as that restraint, albeit always a very personal one.

Nearly a decade ago, I laid out a rough draft template while attempting to more tangibly delineate my personal definition of
AGoodCitizen. I never intended to achieve anything more than a rough mirror image of my own notion with this description, perhaps to inspire others to attempt a similar folly. The best that I could do then and the very best I can do now seems to be a rough outline intended to inspire me, to provide myself permission, to remember to pursue happiness with a well-formed conscience, one capable of taking ever improved forms as I discover its shortcomings.

Please notice and excuse me for even broaching the subject of TheGoodCitizen, for as I said at the start, it seems destined to produce little beyond recriminations. I apologize. I'm expressly not proselytizing here. I seek no penitent converts. I do, however, seek to remind myself, and maybe you, that TheGoodCitizen need not have anything to do with whether one stands when the National Anthem plays or holds their hand over their heart when a veteran passes by on the street. It's too sublimely personal to be adequately represented by any overt act. It seems more a feeling than an expression; more a manner of being than a matter of appearing to be anything. We seem destined to continually surprise each other.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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