Civic Engagement and the Informed Citizen
Musings - published on
[Sharing my response to a question posed by Steve Seibert and the Florida Humanities Council]
What does it mean to be an informed citizen?
An informed citizen stands momentarily between two active obligations of her citizenship with an acute awareness that her individual freedom—and whatever prosperity it may bring—is shaped by public discourse and her participation in its institutions. She has not relegated herself captive to a despotic government, however benevolent; rather invested herself in active governance, however imperfect.
In honoring her first obligation, she has engrossed herself by listening, searching, and thinking to become so informed. She’s aware of what has influenced her neighborhood, city, state, and nation to become what it is. She’s poised to engage in the processes that shape what it will become.
Being informed prepares her to fulfill her second obligation: She must ultimately act. Discussion, deliberation, and debate are tools she wields. She applies them out of optimism for the good of mankind as it can be realized, and she invokes them defensively to constrain the darker impulses of selfishness and power. She recognizes the respective limits and dangers of these inherently human characteristics.
Alone the informed citizen is tragically doomed. In a crowd of peers, she becomes our only hope.