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Taking responsibility

April 13, 2010

Harry Boyte, founder and co-director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, wrote this response to a recent op-ed piece by New York Times columnist Frank Rich.

In his April 10 column for the New York Times, “No One Is to Blame for Anything,” Frank Rich describes the widespread erosion of responsibility citing examples from Wall Street and the banking sector to Tiger Woods. But there is a distinction to be made, hinging on changing meanings of citizenship.

While many continue to display responsibility for private concerns such as families, what has atrophied is a sense of responsibility for public matters–the general welfare. The inculcation of public responsibility depends on understanding  citizenship as the work of all, work that builds the common world with government as our instrument. Productive citizens have changed in our consumer society to private citizens who ask mainly “What can I get?”

The effects of private citizenship are softened by acts of service. But it will take a much stronger understanding of citizenship to revive public responsibility. We need a new generation of citizen workers and professionals — teachers, taxi drivers, business owners and others — if we are to build a sustainable future.

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