Lighting the Path Ahead

The freedoms we enjoy in this country are a genuine blessing but also come with responsibilities. John D. Rockefeller Jr. once said, “Every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.” In a free society, each of us must do what we can to build our communities and to support our fellow citizens. Life is about learning how to become productive, and every young person must learn how to take responsibility for his or her own behaviors and attitudes.

A society of victims and consumers cannot sustain itself. Such a collective will inevitably fail unless its victims learn to become victors and its consumers also learn how to be producers. We cannot just take from society without also replenishing and giving back to the public good that helps to nourish and maintain us. In other words, we each have a civic responsibility. 

Q: How can we teach our children about their civic responsibilities?

A: Although it’s crucial to know your civic responsibilities at any point in life, it’s even more important that teenagers and young adults be taught this important lesson. While they are standing at the crossroads of adolescence and adulthood, learning what they owe to society and what is expected of them is of paramount importance. Too often, adults shy away from teaching young people about their basic civic duties, and consequently, we have a growing generation of self-absorbed and narcissistic young adults who are woefully deprived of any civic enlightenment. 

When we fail to model productive attributes to our kids, we perpetuate disengagement and condemn their future. Not much can be achieved by people simply complaining about how bad things are. Meaningful change in any community can only be brought about with action and the best and most responsible thing you can do is to share your sense of civic responsibilities with the younger generation. Here are some terms that might be a good starting point in their learning.

Civic awareness alludes to individuals within the society who are aware of social, political, and cultural issues occurring within their respective communities. For example, you are aware there is an issue of homelessness within your community. This awareness, however, does not necessarily mean you feel the responsibility to address this issue. 

Civic responsibility, on the other hand, refers to active participation in the public life of a community in an informed, committed, and constructive manner, with a focus on the common good. Volunteering is a common form of civic responsibility, which involves the giving of time or labor without the expectation of monetary compensation. Many people, for instance, volunteer their time through local churches, animal shelters, or food banks. 

Civic engagement is a deeper component of civic responsibility in which individuals dedicate a significant amount of their time, talents, and treasures to a public cause. Good examples are the people who serve on nonprofit boards, participate in fund drives, or hold public offices. To their credit, some people become even more civically engaged during their retirement years. We never outgrow our civic responsibilities.

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--- Dr. Bill R. Path is president of Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology and board member of Okmulgee Main Street Inc. 









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