Minimum Requirements for Good Citizens and Deserving Individuals

This informal paper proposes a model of the minimum requirements for what constitutes a good citizen as well as a deserving individual, a good citizen being the normal ideal for members of society and a deserving individual being anyone who falls short of the ideal but still aspires to be a good citizen and acts in a socially responsible manner that deserves respect — and access to social benefits. The model has only four simple requirements for deserving individuals plus another two to give six simple requirements for being a good citizen.

The goal is to draw a line so that irresponsible behavior can be properly called out, so that only good citizens and deserving individuals reap the benefits of society, including social safety net programs.

The goal is not to exclude anyone in any malevolent or mean-spirited manner, but to make clear the expectations that society has for responsible behavior of its members.

The goal is not to set the bar so high that many are unable to achieve it, but simply to set the bar at a level that the vast majority of individuals have a great chance of meeting the bar simply by sincerely and diligently attempting to do so.

No one should feel that the bar is too high to be reachable with more than a minimal degree of effort — and good intentions.

The goal here is not to state ALL requirements, obligations, recommendations, and guidance for good citizenship, but simply a MINIMUM of requirements.

The intent is to model good citizenship in America, but the model should be relevant in any modern, Western-style society.

Background and motivation

Part of the motivation for this paper was to endeavor to figure out how to relate to providing social services for the homeless and chronically unemployed, including those disabled in some way. That’s where the concept of a deserving individual came from. Home and job are not required, but the four requirements for a deserving individual must be met to gain access to social services.

To be clear:

  1. An IDEAL good citizen is indeed hard-working and industrious.
  2. We do still want to provide social services to those who are DESERVING, even if they are not working.
  3. WORK includes non-employment activities such as education, homemaking, caregiving, volunteering, and artistic endeavors.
  4. Being deserving means behaving as a RESPONSIBLE member of society.
  5. Irresponsible behavior should not be REWARDED with unearned social benefits.

In short, we want to place a very strong emphasis on work, but also accommodate individuals who are unable to work for some legitimate reason.

Distinction between Deserving and Undeserving Individuals

Good citizenship is the normal, expected ideal for all citizens in a society. That said, not everybody is always in a situation to achieve that ideal, either for good and acceptable reasons, or for bad and unacceptable reasons.

Good or acceptable reasons for not achieving the normal, expected ideal of a good citizen include:

  • Children
  • Students
  • Elderly
  • Retired
  • Disabled
  • Treated mental illness
  • Recent immigrants
  • Victims of accident, disease, abuse, or other trauma
  • Recently released prisoners
  • Unemployed AND actively seeking work
  • Visitors from other countries (non-citizens, by definition)

Bad or unacceptable reasons for not achieving the normal, expected ideal of a good citizen include:

  • Criminal behavior
  • Convicted prisoners
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Laziness
  • Intentional misbehavior
  • Acting out
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Untreated mental illness — refusing treatment
  • Substance abuse
  • Gang activity
  • Generally negative attitude towards society
  • Overly-grumpy and disdainful of society, rules, and authority in general
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Refusing to seek work
  • Illegal immigrants (may not feel they are subject to U.S. laws, rules, or authority)
  • Irresponsible immigrants (may not feel they are subject to U.S. laws, rules, or authority)
  • Unruly visitors from abroad (may not feel they are subject to U.S. laws, rules, or authority)

Requirements for Good Citizens

This modest proposal offers only six requirements for achieving the level of responsibility associated with being a good citizen:

  1. Hard-working — put in the effort.
  2. Industrious — diligently attempt to accomplish something meaningful in that work.
  3. Obey laws.
  4. Follow rules.
  5. Respect authority.
  6. General respect for others.

The work requirements can be waived for various situations such as retired, elderly, homemakers, caregivers, students, and disabled.

Requirements for Deserving Individuals

Not everyone will always be in a position to work in any significant capacity. The only requirement for individuals to be considered responsible members of society is that they act in a deserving manner, which has the same non-work requirements as a good citizen:

  1. Obey laws.
  2. Follow rules.
  3. Respect authority.
  4. General respect for others.

Yes, those are the same as the last four requirements for a good citizen.

Deserving Individual requirements are a subset of Good Citizen requirements

The last four requirements of a good citizen are absolutely identical in every way to all four of the requirements for a deserving individual, so that the full set of requirements for a good citizen are the four requirements of a deserving individual plus the two work-oriented requirements.

So, the requirements for a good citizen can be restated as:

  1. Hard-working — put in the effort.
  2. Industrious — diligently attempt to accomplish something meaningful in that work.
  3. Deserving — meets all requirements of a Deserving Individual.

Voluntary compliance

A key requirement for being a responsible member of society is that your actions are strictly voluntary. Nobody is being forced to be a good citizen or forced to be a deserving individual.

This is an extremely important requirement. No society will last for long if people are not enthusiastically embracing life in that society.

And no level of resources can be summoned to force every member of society to comply with every requirement for being a good citizen or a deserving individual.

To emphasize the importance of voluntary compliance, the requirements for being a deserving individual are stated as:

  1. Voluntarily obey laws.
  2. Voluntarily follow rules.
  3. Voluntarily respect authority.
  4. Voluntarily show general respect for others.

And the emphasized requirements for being a good citizen:

  1. Voluntarily hard-working — put in the effort.
  2. Voluntarily industrious — diligently attempt to accomplish something meaningful in those hours.
  3. Voluntarily deserving — meets all requirements of a deserving individual.

Or in expanded form:

  1. Voluntarily hard-working — put in the effort.
  2. Voluntarily industrious — diligently attempt to accomplish something meaningful in those hours.
  3. Voluntarily obey laws.
  4. Voluntarily follow rules.
  5. Voluntarily respect authority.
  6. Voluntarily show general respect for others.

Foreign visitors

Tourists, students, businessmen, diplomats, and any other visitors from other countries are not citizens per se here in America, but they would still be expected to fall under the umbrella of deserving individuals, obeying laws, following rules, and respecting authority and others here in America.

Work

The requirements for being hard-working and industrious can be met in various ways:

  • Employment
  • Military service
  • Homemaker
  • Caregiver
  • Running your own business
  • Starting a new business
  • Freelance work
  • Part-time work
  • Volunteer work
  • Studying and training in preparation for work
  • Independent research
  • Writing and artistic endeavors

In short, anything that involves both:

  1. Putting in serious and diligent EFFORT at some endeavor.
  2. Seriously attempting to ACCOMPLISH something meaningful with that effort.

Extended leave

Individuals taking some form of temporary extended leave from work would retain their status as being good citizens, unless their purported “leave” degenerates into socially irresponsible behavior, and provided that they continue to satisfy all requirements for being a deserving individual.

Examples include:

  • Taking off a year to be with family.
  • Taking time off for medical or health reasons.
  • Taking time off for caregiving.
  • Sabbatical.
  • Traveling the world.
  • To study for a new occupation.
  • To start a business.
  • To engage in independent research.
  • To engage in writing.
  • To engage in artistic endeavors.

Retired

Those who have spent their adult life working responsibly have earned the right to retire with dignity. They have satisfied the work requirement for being a good citizen, for life.

Granted, an individual may retire at a younger age than usual while they are still in prime working years (50–65), but as long as they have the financial resources to fully support themselves, that’s good enough to retain their status as a good citizen.

And if they spend any part of their newfound free time in volunteer efforts, so much the better.

Disabled

Those who are no longer able to work due to a legitimate disability will be considered as having satisfied the work requirement and treated as being good citizens, provided that they continue to satisfy all requirements for being a deserving individual.

Homeless

Part of the motivation for this paper was to endeavor to figure out how to relate to providing social services for the homeless, those without homes or jobs. That’s where the concept of a deserving individual came from. Home and job are not required, but the four requirements for a deserving individual must be met to gain access to social services, namely:

  1. Voluntarily obey laws.
  2. Voluntarily follow rules.
  3. Voluntarily respect authority.
  4. Voluntarily show general respect for others.

To be clear, no impossible or difficult demands are being placed on individuals in this model.

Social benefits

Social benefits include:

  • Social services needed even by good citizens.
  • Benefits needed to fill the gap between what good citizens can afford and the more limited resources of deserving individuals who fall short of the ideal.
  • Due process of law.
  • Respect by authorities and law enforcement.
  • Public facilities.
  • Public parks.
  • Public entertainment.
  • Public education.
  • Public libraries.
  • Public infrastructure, including power, water, waste, communication, food production and distribution.
  • Emergency response.

Benefits to fill the gap include:

  • Unemployment income.
  • Disability income.
  • Retirement income.
  • Educational services.
  • Services for the elderly.
  • Services for the retired.
  • Services for infants and children.
  • Services for parents of infants and children.
  • Health care.
  • Housing.
  • Legal assistance.

Arrest

Individuals accused of a crime are entitled to due process of law, BUT the social contract is that once placed under arrest the individual agrees to comply with law enforcement and the justice system. In other words, once arrested, they are EXPECTED to act as deserving individuals; failure to do so may result in their being deprived of social benefits, not the least of which is their liberty.

Civil disobedience

One modest exception to obedience to law is the matter of civil disobedience, which is a time-honored tradition in America as a quasi-legitimate form of protest even as it is technically illegal.

The tradition in America is that civil disobedience is strictly peaceful, strictly nonviolent, and strictly respectful of authority. As long as the protesters remain otherwise respectful of law enforcement personnel, law enforcement personnel will tend to treat the protesters with respect, and prosecutors will tend to use their discretion to minimize any penalty or frequently completely dismiss any charges for whatever minor legal violation may have been committed by the protesters in the name of civil disobedience.

This is essentially a social compact in America, since the founding of the country.

But, any violation of those traditional norms of peaceful action, nonviolence, and respect for law enforcement personnel effectively breaks that social compact, rendering any non-peaceful protest as being socially irresponsible and hence inconsistent with being a good citizen or even a deserving individual.

Generally, civil disobedience is limited to occupying some space, such as a sit-in or peaceful but non-permitted assembly, refusing an order by law enforcement to vacate that space, but then calmly and peacefully complying when law enforcement personnel respectfully take the protesters under arrest and lead them away.

Resistance to arrest again breaks that traditional social compact. Resistance might take the form of:

  • Pulling away from the grasp of the arresting officer.
  • Refusing to move when grasped by the arresting officer.
  • Pushing.
  • Shoving.
  • Kicking.
  • Spitting.
  • Biting.
  • Throwing objects.
  • Yelling or screaming.
  • Running (after being arrested).
  • Refusing reasonable requests and orders after being arrested.

But provided that protesters calmly refrain from such egregious misconduct, law enforcement will generally respond with similarly respectful behavior. This would satisfy the requirement that individuals voluntarily respect authority when engaging in civil disobedience.

Provided that protesters offer such compliance upon arrest, the relatively minor matter of their initial disobedience to law or violation of rules would not be considered fatal to their status as otherwise good citizens or deserving individuals.

Minimum requirements

Just to reiterate, the goal here is not to state ALL requirements, obligations, recommendations, and guidance for good citizenship, but simply MINIMUM requirements. For example, additional requirements, obligations, recommendations, and guidance for good citizenship could include:

  • Paying taxes.
  • Possible military service (if the draft were to be reinstated.)
  • Jury duty.
  • Voting.
  • Keeping informed on all relevant issues so participation in voting can be well-informed.
  • Civility.

Civility

Civility is a true grey area. There is no question that society is a lot more rewarding and satisfying when civility is the norm, but mandating and enforcing civility is neither practical nor considered reasonable. The magic in civility is that it works best and is most effective when it is strictly voluntary. Mandatory civility is essentially an oxymoron.

Civility is a great tool for enabling and facilitating respect for others, which is one of the minimum requirements in the proposed model for good citizens and deserving individuals, but it is a tool rather than an end in itself. Technically, one could be respectful of others without being civil (superficially polite), and one could be superficially civil without being truly and deeply respectful.

In short, mutual respect is required, while civility is optional, although highly encouraged.

For more on civility, see a companion paper, What is a Civil Society (Civility)?.

  • Participation in education and youth activities.
  • Recycling and responsible use of resources such as water and electricity.
  • Participation in government as appropriate.

Conclusion

In summary, we seek to clarify the minimal set of requirements for what it means to be a socially responsible member of society in America today. Not to make it difficult to do so, but certainly to make it very clear that everyone is very strongly encouraged to do their own part to assure a harmonious society. And to assure that sufficient mutual respect exists between all socially responsible members of society.

Nobody is expected to be perfect and reasonable protest is permitted, but everyone is expected to do their part to refrain from socially irresponsible behavior.

Work is still the cornerstone of being a good citizen, although it is recognized and accepted that work may not always be available or possible in all situations.

As long as individuals satisfy the minimum requirements for being deserving individuals, they can expect a range of social benefits provided that they have a legitimate reason for not meeting the work requirements of good citizenship.

Written by

Freelance Consultant

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