When I was a kid, there was a concept that was taught to us in school. It was called Citizenship. It was part of an ideal of cordiality and common interest that held us together as a nation. Of course, much of it was bushwah. The world back then was just as full of injustice, prejudice, and rotten losers who didn’t care about anyone but themselves as it is today. Perhaps we were just more cordial about it.
There were several aspects to citizenship that were drummed into us. First, it carried with it a host of benefits. You were an American. Americans were part of a great, ongoing experiment that had something to do with personal freedom, opportunity for all, hot dogs and baseball, education as a common right, and something about lifting the lamp beside the golden door to all the tired and poor. No matter how we might disagree on a host of things, we were all citizens, and that, along with television, bound us together.
Citizenship, it was quickly pointed out, came with certain responsibilities. You had to vote, for instance, when the Mayor, Governor, or Uncle Sam told you it was time to do so. Those who didn’t vote were not being good citizens. This being America, we weren’t going to punish them for not voting. But we didn’t appreciate them, either. As a citizen, you also were supposed to bring your library books back on time, obey rules about crossing the street and spitting in public places, not run people over on your bike, even if they were crossing in the middle of the block, and eat a good breakfast every day.
These weren’t onerous obligations. They were just part of good Citizenship. And exercising them, it turned out, gave one a certain good feeling that was unlike any other. It was a little like collecting money for Unicef at Halloween, particularly if you actually gave the money you got for that exercise to the teacher on November 1. But it was a quieter feeling than that. I still get it when I vote, even though sometimes I feel like I’m choosing between a block of stinky cheese and an old sock whose mate was long ago lost in the laundry.
This brings us to the Census form that came in the mail last week. It had been sitting on my kitchen table for a while and this morning I filled it out. It made me feel quite good in a way that transcends the kind of glow I get when the stock goes up a few points, or somebody tells me I look thinner. For a few minutes, as I checked off the boxes that told my Government a little bit about myself, I felt like I was part of the big collective American people in a way I haven’t for some time. For just a few minutes, I forgot about Wall Street and health care and unemployment and tea parties and people who think that those who work for social justice are Nazis, for God’s sake, or how the President is doing in the polls or whether Twitter is the new Facebook or vice versa. I felt like I was doing something nice with the rest of my neighbors.
I’m aware that not everybody sees it this way. A few of my friends looked at me like I was slightly demented when I started talking about this stuff. And last year some idiots actually killed a census worker in what I guess they thought was some kind of twisted, anti-Government patriotism of some kind. Or maybe he just stumbled on their still.
But me, I liked filling out my census form. Actually, it made me wonder what other good citizenship things are going on out there for me to do. Once you get started, the possibilities seem kind of endless. I’ll bet you could come up with a few. Although this might not be the proper venue for that discussion, being concerned with business and free enterprise and all.