What happens when too many of us stop making it a habit to act like citizens? When we start to hear “that’s not my problem” more than we hear “how can I help?” When we see more people disengaging or opting out of participation, rather than joining in and raising their hands?

Living like a citizen — like a contributing, pro-social member of a community — isn’t something we can take for granted. That’s why we’re dedicated to helping others build up this civic muscle and motivation. It’s the only way to build a nation that delivers on its promise.

This is the first of a three-part series to unpack the core ingredients of our recipe for success: citizenship, culture, and catalyzing.

This post encourages you to consider what’s possible with a broader understanding and a deeper commitment to infusing these elements into your life. How might you live more like a citizen at your job or on your block? What skills do you have to be a “citizen influencer” even on a small scale? Here’s where to start.

Using our head: Understanding citizenship

As you’ve hopefully picked up, we think about citizenship in the deep ethical sense — not just what passports or papers we may have.

Citizenship is about participating and taking responsibility for the good, the bad, and the ugly of our society.

Wherever we and our ancestors were born, we can find purpose by choosing to live like a citizen.

In a recent civic sermon, Eric Liu provided this contrast: “The cynic is uninterested in why people act. The citizen is endlessly curious. The cynic gets disillusioned, and stops. The citizen gets disillusioned, and replaces illusion with vision. The cynic lets things happen. The citizen makes things happen.” 

Simply put, power + character = citizenship. It calls upon us to use our civic power for good. When we each consciously embrace our character and activate our power, that’s when each of us are truly living like citizens.

Using our hearts: Feeling citizenship

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — citizenship is a heart-driven activity. It requires faith, which comes from the heart. It is something we feel when we relate to one another as Americans. When we see others stepping up and taking responsibility, we feel a little bit more capable of doing the same.

Here are a few ways you can feel that spark of hope — and jolt of activation — from others who are also living like citizens.

  • Strategy #1 — Up your daily dose. It’s tempting to tune into snarky or cynical voices about the state of our country… but that media diet can’t be healthy! Seek out new people to follow who are leaning in and generating solutions to give you an encouraging boost.
  • Strategy #2 — Be the one to notice and name citizenship. Share an observation about someone doing something that improves their community and strengthens bonds of trust and affection — could be around the dinner table or online.

What evidence of citizenship do you see around you? Share them with your friends, colleagues, and other people in your life.

Using our hands: Living citizenship

Citizenship is way more than which bubbles we fill on our ballots. It’s the everyday ways we use our power and show up for each other. And these small acts compound into culture.

We have the power to shape the norms, narratives, and habits of our communities. Society becomes how we behave, as we like to say.

We’ve come up with nine ways you can put citizenship into practice — all of which are something you can (and should!) do with others.

  1. Listen — join a group like Living Room Conversations to practice deep listening.
  2. Learn — seek out opinions from people who hold ones different from your own.
  3. Join — find a neighborhood group, block party, or other club.
  4. Gather — bring a group of friends together to build power for an issue you care about.
  5. Serve — build volunteering into your schedule once a month.
  6. Argue — find someone to practice better arguments with and sharpen your positions.
  7. Circulate — find something in your life that you can share with others.
  8. Advocate — figure out what’s happening with your city council right now and find a way to plug in.
  9. Vote — don’t wait till the elections… make a plan for how you’ll be a voting catalyst when election day rolls around.

What does citizenship in action look like to you?

Reply on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook with your ideas!