Social Question

phoebusg's avatar

What does it mean to be a citizen?

Asked by phoebusg (5225points) February 9th, 2010

As per definition: An inhabitant of a city or (often) of a town; esp. one possessing civic rights and privileges, a burgess or freeman of a city. (OED)
This term is about 1200 years old. So I’ll also mention its ancestor: Politis (Greek/Ancient Greek, from which politics come) – polis meaning state.

What is the difference between that, and solitude – living away from any sort of group or society. What changes when one enters a group, and especially a ‘town/state’.

There are many things we take for granted living in those groups. This discussion is intended for, first of all curiosity as to what we think – secondly a re-definition of our assumptions and lastly how to better live in one.

Please keep this on topic, jokes are welcome so long you also focus on providing your best answer (with the time provided).
Have fun, looking forward to the replies.

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18 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

A citizen, to me, is a legal designation. A citizen is automatically entitled to the rights and aid provided by the political unit of which the person is a citizen. Others (non-citizens) may also be entitled to some rights and aid should the citizens of that political entity so decide, but only citizens are automatically entitled.

JLeslie's avatar

As a citizen of a town, city, state, or country I think it is almost an agreement to work/function within the society. You get privileges being a citizen, but also it carries resposibilities. It does not mean you cannot be a loner, living out on your own, separate from the public; but, at minimum you have a responsibility to not cause harm to other citizens or damage the symbiotic nature of society.

Trillian's avatar

To further what @wundayatta says; A citizen as part of a larger community also has an innate responsibility to _ that community. He benefits from the organizational aspect, public water, safety, traffic lights, firefighters, garbage removal, police, etc. He in turn cooperates with and abides by the laws and ordinances of that community. He obeys those traffic signals, keeps his garbage bagged properly, moves out of the way for the firetrucks, sits on a jury when asked, keeps music within a reasonable volume, etc. This promotes a smoothly flowing system by which _all can benefit.

BoBo1946's avatar

“Every good citizen makes his country’s honor his own, and cherishes it not only as precious but as sacred. He is willing to risk his life in its defence and is conscious that he gains protection while he gives it.”
Andrew Jackson

Harp's avatar

It implies a willingness to prioritize the common good. There has to be a recognition that one can’t always have one’s way. One has to accept that in order for society to function smoothly (to the overall benefit of the majority), individuals will at times be called upon to put the community’s interests over their personal gain or desires.

Taxes are a good example. Nobody likes to pay them. We can all think of things to spend that money on that would better benefit us personally. But essential to citizenship is the recognition that working collectively is a better way to get certain things done, and that collective work requires the material support of all who can contribute, whether or not they will directly benefit from that work.

Citizens have the right to debate how to best apply the power of collective action, but
citizenship carries at least an implied commitment to the principle that we’re all better off if we work together.

wundayatta's avatar

It implies a willingness to prioritize the common good

Maybe it used to, but I don’t think it does any more. I suspect most people, certainly in America, have no clue about ways in which they cooperate. They certainly don’t know what government does, nor why they pay taxes. They rail against taxes all the time. I think that in America, citizenship—if it says anything about relationships to others outside of administrative issues—is more about freedom and independence: the right to bear arms, and to care for yourself and drop off the grid.

The only responsibility that most citizens seem to focus on, is the responsibility to protect the country. They don’t recognize the importance of working collectively, and such recognition is not essential to citizens.

Most citizens in the US have no idea what citizenship means. Maybe voting. Other than that, I think they feel disenfranchised and powerless and irrelevant. What they learned in citizenship class, if they had it, is how to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Your vision, @Harp, seems to me to be a very idealized version of citizenship. Would that it were that way. But it isn’t. At least, not in the US.

Trillian's avatar

@wundayatta You’re probably right, but technically, so are we.

wundayatta's avatar

@Trillian There is that. You should know about technicalities! ;-)

wundayatta's avatar

@Trillian Now you’re making me think about barbecue. Stop it!

Berserker's avatar

It means you’re insane. A quote from one of my favourite action movies, Con Air;

What if I told you insane was working fifty hours a week in some office for fifty years at the end of which they tell you to piss off; ending up in some retirement village hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time? Wouldn’t you consider that to be insane?

Ron_C's avatar

I believe that, in the United States, there are at least two classes of people, citizens, and residents. I would venture to say that the vast majority of people born in the United States are residents but not real citizens. To me, a citizen has rights and responsibilities. There is much talk about individual rights, there is almost no talk about responsibilities. Paying taxes in not, (again) in my opinion, fulfilling a person’s responsibilities, it is only paying rent on your space in the country.

The minimum that you can do to be a real citizen is to vote, responsibly, in every election.

I also think that after high school that a citizen would either join the military or the Peace Corps.

A citizen should shoulder his (her) responsibilities in emergencies without being forced or recruited. I saw a lot of citizens digging out their neighbor’s sidewalk and freeing stuck cars, not because they were told, but because they wanted to help.

I was in the Pittsburgh area during the last snow storm. They had 31 inches (0.81 meters) and saw both citizens and residents. While my son-in-law and I helped get the car with a one legged driver and a pregnant woman out of a snow bank while a resident sat in his SUV and watched.

Frankly, I don’t like residents.

Ron_C's avatar

I learned a lot during this experience. We buried my dad on Monday while most of the community was still digging out of the biggest snow storm in ten years.

I learned that I have an absolutely wonderful family. They arrived from all corners of the country to help out. I learned that I have the smartest and most supportive wife, daughters, and granddaughters a man can have. I learned that I never gave enough credit to my son-in-laws, they were terrific, especially when it comes to digging us all out of the snow and ferrying us back an forth from dad’s hilltop home.

I learned that the guys from the American Legion in White Oak are the most considerate and caring group of friends a man could have.

I learned that my dad had friends whose ages ranged from teens to octogenarians.

I learned that even I can do the impossible if I am willing to ask friends and family.

I learned that the folks here are willing and able to give comfort to a virtual stranger.

Thank you all, I also learned to love you all. There are still tears in my eyes but they are in gratitude for all of you that helped in my time of need.

Ron

Ron_C's avatar

I have to apologize, the above answer was to another question, I’m not sure how it ended up here.

mattbrowne's avatar

A citizen uses the term “our government” instead of “the government”.

A citizen plays an active part in democracy instead of assigning blame. Everyone can found a movement or political party. Everybody can join a movement or political party. Everybody can become a member of a city council or state parliament.

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne Interesting way to put it. I would say here in America a lot people are using “the government” right now, especially right wing southern republicans, because they believe they don’t identify with who is in control at the moment, and are on a big kick right now about how all government is bad. These citizens use phrases like “my country,” and “our country;” but not “our goverment,” I don’t think.

mattbrowne's avatar

Well, a real democratic mindset respects and accepts the majority vote. I think most of the Kerry voters in 2004 accepted Bush as the winner (without having to agree with all his viewpoints of course). Many right wing southern Republicans do not accept Obama which clearly shows their underdeveloped democratic values.

In Germany I did not vote for chancellor Merkel, but she still is my chancellor.

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