The Good Project
An Introduction: What is "Good Citizenship"?
The problems facing the world today are ample and, in a globalized and interconnected planet, are more likely to affect all nations and all persons. The international community recently witnessed the degree to which a previously unknown pathogen, COVID-19, could within weeks disrupt daily life for billions of people. Climate change poses an urgent threat for the survival of human beings as well as the numerous species with which we share the earth. Social disparities along racial and ethnic lines persist and are in some cases widening.
The Good Project
It is imperative for people (especially those with the time and resources to do so) to address these issues and to do so collaboratively. When we consider people coming together in pursuit of a goal that will benefit the common good, the terms "civic" and "citizenship" often come to mind.
How do those of us on The Good Project define "good citizenship"? What are the ways of thinking that will encourage citizens to contribute to a better world?
Launched in the middle 1990s, The Good Project initially investigated how individuals were carrying out their work under conditions of rapid technological change and strong market forces, which have only accelerated in the succeeding quarter century. Our research team conducted in-depth interviews about work with individuals drawn from a a range of domains—including law, medicine, journalism, and education. We asked our informants to consider their formative influences, beliefs, values, supports, obstacles, responsibilities, ethical standards, and allied issues. As a result of this extensive research, our "good work" framework emerged. As we now conceptualize it, good work is characterized by"3 Es": it is high quality (Excellent), concerned with consequences (Ethical), and meaningful (Engaging).
The bulk of our research has focused on people's professional lives. But the role of worker is obviously not the only role that individuals occupy in their multifaceted lives—nor is work the only sphere in which we interact with and influence others. One may, for example, think of oneself as a "mom," a "daughter," and a "friend," and act differently depending on which role is dominant in a particular moment.
"Citizen" is yet another lens through which we might view ourselves. And so we have recently pondered: Can we conceptualize "citizenship" in ways that will encourage people to do "good" for the benefit of all?
What is a "good citizen"?
First and foremost, when referring to citizenship, we do not simply mean legal citizenship in a particular nation or country. Instead, in our formulation, a citizen is an inhabitant of a place or community, whether or not that comes with legal recognition. Although it is undoubtedly more difficult without legal citizenship, we believe everyone has a right and a responsibility to participate in civic life.
Accordingly, at The Good Project, we extend our conception of the 3Es of ethics, excellence, and engagement to describe and evaluate the meaning of "good citizenship." With that schema in mind, good citizens are individuals who strive to do the right thing, not principally for their own self interest but for their broader communities and for society (ethics); know the rules, regulations, and norms of their particular communities and contexts, as well as conditions when it is proper or even necessary to defy them (excellence); and take an interest and find meaning in working for the betterment of community and society (engagement). As examples familiar to readers, we think of Cesar Chavez, Dr. Martin Luther King, or Malala Yousafzai; and while most of us cannot presume to accomplish what these heroic figures have accomplished, these exemplary citizens nonetheless serve as inspiration.
This way the 3 Es of good citizenship manifest themselves and resonate with one another will differ depending on one's values, environmental circumstances, and upbringing. For some individuals, voting regularly may be sufficient political action to qualify as "doing the right thing." For others, weekly protests calling for large-scale social change might be necessary in order to feel one has done enough. The issues that are salient to particular individuals will also vary.
At The Good Project we have gathered evidence in support of our claim that "good citizens" are ethical, engaged, and excellent. In our analysis, they are also able to critically consider the rings of responsibility; in so doing, their ultimate actions should be beneficial not only to themselves, but also to those in their various communities. It follows, then, that individuals would be acting in accordance with the principles of "good citizenship" if:
- When encountering dilemmas, individuals took the time to critically think about how they define the various communities and tried to act, or not act, in accordance with what they felt would do the most good for their communities rather primarily than for themselves (ethics).
- Individuals took the time to know the norms, rules, and/or laws of their various communities (excellence).
- Individuals displayed an interest in events and issues relevant to their various communities (engagement).
In the accompanying set of blogs, we explore good citizenship and good work through a variety of approaches and perspectives. Featured are:
- A discussion of the distinctions between a good person, a good worker and a good citizen
- The application of the Good Work "5 Ds" framework to unpack a dilemma
- A discussion of how good citizenship can be achieved through good work
- A consideration of the meaning and the achievement of global citizenship.
If you're interested in reading the next parts of Good Citizenship series, you can visit The Good Project website .