The television teems with 30 second jeremiads warning of imminent economic disaster. Robo-calls, screened out by caller ID, crowd answering machine space with their denunciations. Friends lose inhibitions, loading Facebook with political jargon and links to fanciful stories woven from half truths and out of context quotes. All of this sturm und drang builds to one, undeniable message: your vote in this election is your most important responsibility as a citizen.
This is a lie.
(At best, it is a remarkable case of self-delusion.)
Make no mistake, we must vote. Both Peter and Paul tell us to honor Caesar. In the political system of these United States, Caesar is us. To honor Caesar, at least in part, is to participate in the political system as an informed voter. Learn more about candidates than is offered by the pundits and the peddlers of spin in their morality play scenarios. Seek information about local issues. Who is running for school board, and why? What are the state issues at hand? This election is a civics test. Study for it. Vote. Voting is not just our right – it is our responsibility.
Even so, voting is not our most important role as citizens.
Much more important are the myriad of things we do between elections.
Do you view coaching your kid’s soccer team as an act of citizenship? It is. What about joining that book club you were invited to? That too is an act of citizenship. Civic organizations, garden clubs, sports leagues, church choirs, arts organizations – Yes, these all are venues for concerned and involved citizenship.
The sociologists call it “social capital”. Social capital is hard won. It arises from the ethos of a people. Alexis De Tocqueville, while not using the term, identified the concept in his 1840 opus Democracy in America:
“Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States, you will be sure to find an association.”
Politicians can’t manufacture it; at best they nurture the framework for it. The truth, if we will but hear it, is that the greatest responsibility of each citizen, indeed the daily responsibility, is the building of social capital.
Let me invite you to join me in some of the ways I build social capital
- Give blood
- Go to church
- Write a letter to the editor
- Join a civic organization (like Rotary or Toastmasters)
- Run a road race
- Walk your streets and talk with neighbors
- Strike up a conversation at the coffee shop
In what ways do you build social capital? Comments are open, citizens.