‘good’ vs ‘just’ citizen

I am happy to announce that my to do list is rapidly decreasing! I now have a midterm, and a quiz tomorrow and finish classes! And then I just have 3 final exams. I’m on the verge of successfully making it through this crazy semester of adjusting to full time studies, two part time jobs, moving, and living in community with all its ups and downs and challenges.

Anyways, my take home exam for community engagement was pretty reflective in nature and I liked what I wrote for this so thought I would include it. The readings to which I read were part of the course and I’m too tired at the moment to look up proper references (we just had to include author for this exam).

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This course has been instrumental in helping me reflect and challenge my ideals and my role in the world. For most of my life, I have sought to be a ‘good citizen’ – a law abiding, tax-paying, contributing and caring member of society. However, this course has affirmed my continued questioning of what it means to be a ‘good’ citizen.

In our first tutorial, we were encouraged to reflect on our own position of privilege and the responsibilities that come with it. I have clean water, food, clothing and housing that most of the world does not have including people of my own country who are native to the land. I attend an excellent university that is training my mind for work that will likely carry status and more privilege. This privilege is not something I deserve or to which I am entitled.[1]

This privilege comes with a few handy rewards. First, as an educated person, I can formulate, articulate and defend my position on a given topic and people typically flatter me by listening to what I have to say. I cannot say the same for my friends on the street, my friends who suffer with mental illness, or the youth who dropped out of highschool. They may have insight into problems, but are easily dismissed. I can also manage systems and find the tools necessary to succeed, something that many of my friends are blocked once feeling intimidated kicks in. Second, I have the means to continue a life of privilege by having skills and education that will lead to a job that pays more than minimum wage with decent hours.

As a ‘good’ citizen, I strive to use my privileged position for good. I volunteer and give to charity with both benevolent and selfish motivations. Often this results in a well-meaning effort to create and define a “utopian vision for the world” in which I, along with other privileged people, seek to implement.[2]

Gladwell, while focusing on social media, challenges me to consider whether I am doing enough.[3] Does my privileged position require more of me than merely being ‘good’? The problem with being privileged in a country that assigns rights to all citizens is that it seems that only some people’s voices matter, taken seriously and respected. My lifestyle is built on stolen land, slavery, and systems that perpetuate injustices. Is it enough to abide by the law and be kind every now and then? This course has made me think of how I might use my position of privilege, my education and my voice to challenge the systems that perpetuate injustice.

Recent encounters demonstrate that this line of thinking requires a new definition of what it means to be a ‘good citizen’ of a country that is deeply entrenched in inequality and oppression. The question continues to brew in my mind: how far am I willing to go in order to stretch the notion of a good citizen to become a citizen who promotes justice? Resisting our systems is not always popular and the cost can be great. A good friend of mine is currently in military prison and separated from her four children because she resisted being redeployed in the Iraq War. Another friend’s church is discerning whether they will illegally provide sanctuary to refugee claimants who have been given deportation notices. This course has led me to consider the possibility of sacrificing being a ‘good’ citizen for being a ‘just’ citizen.


[1] Choules, pg. 472

[2] Choules, pg. 463

[3] Gladwell

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