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Benjamin Franklin was asked by a woman as he walked out from a hundred days writing the Constitution, “Doctor, do we have a Monarchy, or a Republic?” He warned, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Franklin’s point was to ensure the new American government would endure, citizens had to get involved, participate in civic pursuits and be concerned about their government.
From Aristotle’s time when civic virtue was proclaimed as an attribute of the good citizen to today’s activists all civic participation is rooted in service. How do we foster ‘otherness’ in our citizenry? Starting from birth, a child receives support and love from its mother and father. Closer to the mother at first, experiencing the nurturing and selflessness of the mother in the home. Families provide a way for children to learn to support their siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. They learn to do chores that support the family, certainly this was a requirement in farm based families.
Today, most families are in urban centers with the mother and father likely to be both working, and chores are less clear with household machines and the Internet. Kids spend more time on electronic devices than talking with family members. So, how do children learn to be selfless? Volunteering at school, participating in local charities, with their mother and father taking the lead in initiating family service are all good ways to learn service.
Yet, what about our urban core areas or poor areas where families are just trying to survive day to day, do they have time for service? Or where there is only one head of house to provide or raise the children? They need support, plus as a society we are so segregated by income and residence there is rarely a mixing of classes, ethnicities or cultures.
Domestic service, sponsored by the federal government for all young people 18 – 24 years of age for two years in programs patterned after Americorp is a good start. Americans from all walks of life have an opportunity to serve their communities, states or travel to other areas of the country to provide necessary support services in areas they would otherwise never live.
We have fewer life experiences where we work with mixed classes working toward a share goal, resulting in a highly divisive and abusive civil discourse. If we start working together to support our communities, our states, and our country maybe we can discover that we have more in common and build on those common interests in our civic affairs.