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What Does It Mean to Be a Good Citizen?

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What it takes to be a good citizen can vary by culture. Overall, though, people who obey laws and contribute to society are generally seen as good citizens.

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The qualifier "good" constitutes a subjective judgment that is likely to vary based on context. Humans do not have a single objective definition of the specifics of what "good" might mean when applied to a person. Therefore, the exact circumstances that make a person a good citizen or bad citizen may depend heavily on the laws of the land in which he or she lives. Some people may consider that a good citizen is a person who can generally be considered "good" according to standard social rules that generally apply to all human societies, such as being kind to others and exercising proper etiquette according to cultural norms. Others may believe that good citizens need to make personal sacrifices for the betterment of their countrymen, such as paying high taxes to fund social programs that help people in need.

The Many Definitions of Good Citizenship
Good citizenship can be defined in more specific ways within the context of a government institution with a specific mission. For example, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service explains that good citizens feel a strong commitment to their country. They show appreciation for their civil rights by utilizing their freedom to become successful. They are industrious, responsible and avoid becoming a burden on society. However, education is extremely important for good citizens because it allows them to make correct decisions and avoid being fooled by power-hungry demagogues. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is dedicated to ensuring that only the most worthy applicants are granted citizenship to the U.S., so this definition serves a functional purpose for that institution. Institutions dedicated to public service or environmentalism may add more specific definitions of what "industrious" and "responsible" mean based on their organization's mission.

The Legal Aspects of Good Citizenship
Laws usually play an important part in how good citizenship is perceived. A good citizen would typically not be one that willfully broke laws in his or her country. Some people also think that participating in government is an important characteristic of a good citizen. This doesn't mean that one has to become a politician or otherwise work in government in order to be a good citizen, but citizens of democratic nations are generally encouraged to participate by voting in order to participate in government properly. However, some people think that good citizens need to be able to make properly informed decisions and think critically about the options available to them at the ballot box.

However, in a nation that does not conduct free and open elections, this kind of critical thinking and personal decision making may not be considered to be good citizenship. For example, in North Korea, opposition to the government is a punishable offense, and the government would likely not consider such dissidents to be good citizens. This is where the subjective nature of the "good citizen" judgment becomes tricky, however, because a dissident speaking out on behalf of human rights would likely be considered a good person. Dissidents, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., are generally seen as good people even if governing powers didn't see them as good citizens.

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