GOOD

What Really Makes Someone a Good Citizen?

Reflections on duty from the billionaire who’s giving away 99 percent of his wealth.

This spring, we’re celebrating innovators who are tackling pressing global issues. We call them the GOOD 100. In the spirit of solidarity, we’re also rolling out insights and personal stories from a select list of influential global citizens working in alliance with the world at large. We’ll be highlighting GOOD Citizens once a week.

There’s an old story about a blind man walking towards a well, and there’s a guy watching. If the blind man falls into the well, who gets the blame? The blind man? Or the guy who’s watching? Understanding what it means to be a true citizen makes the answer clear.


Look up the word “citizenship” and you’ll quickly realize that citizenship isn’t a static idea. It’s about more than simply belonging to a particular place—“I am a citizen, therefore I have citizenship.” It’s also not true that you “possess” citizenship in order to enjoy certain privileges. Rather, most definitions suggest that citizens are expected to act in a certain way. Even U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which lists seven basic rights for citizens, also outlines nine responsibilities. At its core, citizenship implies duty.

This is not a new idea. From the Ancient Greeks to the Roman Empire to Modern philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, citizenship has involved some type of obligation to the State or fellow citizens. However, the extent of that obligation depends on how broadly or narrowly we interpret citizenship.

For some, citizenship is no more than meeting the terms of our social contract: We respect the law and give up some personal freedoms in exchange for certain benefits and protection. Others take more of a “live and let live” attitude. John Locke summed it up this way: “No one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.”

That might be fine when things are going well. But what happens when there’s conflict, as we’re seeing now in the U.S. with disputes over immigration and debates around the world over how to respond to the current refugee crisis? Or in situations where being a “good citizen” in one place puts us at odds with, or even creates hardship for, people in other places?

Concepts of citizenship that are understood only in the context of geopolitical boundaries, and therefore aren’t applied to outsiders, can cause us to act in ways that aren’t very citizen-like. But I believe that’s just wrong. Citizenship should never be used to divide.

So what’s the answer? We need to expand our idea of what it means to be a citizen. We’ve got to look beyond our neighborhoods, cities, states, and countries. And we need to see our duty as going beyond avoiding harm or abstaining from wrongdoing; it even goes beyond being polite or civil. We’ve simply got to think bigger.

At a fundamental level, all human beings are citizens of the world. Therefore, our practice of citizenship should extend to all mankind. With that in mind, the only type of citizenship that holds value is one that actively promotes goodness and well-being for all of humanity—especially those who need it most.

I believe the responsibility for those of us with more—be it money, talents, time, or skills—is to serve those with less. You don’t have to be rich to be effective. No matter who you are, you can do great things. But if you have any kind of means and you’re not doing something for those who are suffering, then you’re not really a citizen.

Actions, not words, are what define and validate. Take a carpenter. You can’t call someone a carpenter unless he does something with wood. The same is true of a citizen. Citizen is not a title. It’s an action.

Citizenship will look different for different people. And that’s how it should be. If we were all the same, had the same skillsets, and all worked on the same problems, then a lot of needs would go unmet. But if you’re looking for where to start, here’s one suggestion based on what I’ve done:

Look at what you have—not just money and things, but also time, skills, strengths and weaknesses—and then look at those with less. What do they need? And how can you serve? At the most fundamental level, citizenship is service.

For me, that relative comparison gives me a different perspective, which affects my evaluation of myself, and shows me what my duty really is. Because in the end, it’s not what I want to do that matters. It’s not about me.

Once you’ve considered what to do, look to those you admire and who have done a lot more. Then strive to emulate the good in them.

Through the work I do now with Billions in Change, my goal is to address some of the fundamental issues facing the world. I’ve got a team of inventors making useful products in the areas of water, energy, and health that we’re hoping will enable people to earn a livelihood, become self-sustaining, escape poverty, and experience well-being. The way I see it, my customers are the unlucky half of the world—those who have not had the opportunity to make a living because of circumstances beyond their control. I’m working for them. And if they’re not properly served, then I have not done my job.

Realizing that other people are human beings just like us is how we begin to appreciate what it means to be a citizen of the world. In the end, we have the same fundamental needs and we mostly want the same things in life.

Unless we understand our fellow humans, we can’t really serve them. I work at that every day. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but that perspective is at least a start. I hope you’ll join me in redefining citizenship for the betterment of humanity.

Manoj Bhargava is a philanthropist and founder of Stage 2 Innovations and its supporting movement, Billions in Change, which are focused on developing and deploying useful inventions to address the world’s most pressing problems. He is also founder and CEO of Living Essentials®, the company behind 5-hour Energy.

Features
via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
Pixabay

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Cocostation

Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger

Dizaul

Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head

Speakman

Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor

Zomchi

Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet