What Does it Mean to Be a Citizen?

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Citizenship is a social relationship of mutual dependence and reciprocity between people who share common values and interests. It enables them to work together to achieve their goals and dreams and to protect their shared interests. A good citizen is responsible, respectful and helpful and contributes to the community and country’s prosperity.

Citizens can have many responsibilities and duties, including paying taxes, obeying the law, volunteering for service opportunities and participating in political debates and elections. Citizenship can be a rewarding experience and a sense of belonging to a nation. It can also lead to career and life choices that have a positive impact on society.

There are many different traditions and approaches to citizenship, which vary according to countries, histories, societies and cultures. These differences result in different understandings of what it means to be a citizen. For example, some citizens believe that it is a moral duty to recognize the rights of others and take care not to infringe them. Others believe that a good citizen is well-rounded and understands the importance of making contributions to society in areas such as technical skills, legal knowledge, medical expertise and other professions.

One model of citizenship is based on the way that ancient Greeks lived, in small-scale organic communities known as polis (city). In this type of society, one’s public and private lives were not separated in the sense that they are today. Instead, the obligations of citizenship were deeply connected to everyday life and to an individual’s sense of self-worth. For the ancient Greeks, to fail to fulfil these obligations was not only unacceptable but to be something less than human.

As the polises of ancient Greece became part of larger empires, citizenship rights were extended to conquered peoples, which fundamentally changed the meaning of this concept. In the modern world, it has come to be seen as a legal status or as an occasional identity. In this context, discussions often focus on whether a citizen should be the primary political agent or if they should be a passive participant in politics, entrusting their role to representatives.

In the United States, there are multiple dimensions of citizenship, including the right to vote in local, state and national elections and the obligation to serve the nation in military and civilian roles. Other aspects of citizenship include promoting democratic attitudes and participatory skills, fostering a sense of cultural heritage and building a strong identity with the nation.

In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in early 2018, around three-quarters of Americans said that voting is very important to being a citizen and about seven-in-ten said it was very important to pay taxes, obey the laws and always be a good citizen. However, the survey showed that Democrats and Republicans and young and old adults differed in their beliefs about what is necessary for good citizenship. In addition, there are some who argue that government services should be delivered in a way that promotes citizen participation and civic engagement, while others maintain that the only acceptable form of civic engagement is protesting when the government does wrong.