Good Citizenship

To many people “good citizenship” means obeying the law, paying your taxes, voting your properly informed convictions, and so on.  These are certainly examples of behavior by someone who is responsibly independent.  However, in this day and age, “good citizenship” requires more; it also requires behavior that is effectively interdependent.  Good citizenship now requires people behave in ways that are both responsibly independent and effectively interdependent.

I’m going to spend some time on this, but stick with me.

In his work, Dr. Stephen R. Covey defined a maturity continuum in the context of four dimensions of the human condition.  Covey’s maturity continuum consists of three levels: dependence is the lowest level, independence is next, and the highest level is interdependence.

This maturity continuum applies to each of the four dimensions of the human condition: physical/financial, intellectual/psychological, emotional/social, and spiritual. Another way to express these four dimensions is: the body, the mind, the heart, and the soul; and they correlate to the innate human needs to live, to learn, to love, and to leave a legacy.

Freeze that window for a moment; I want to be clear about what is meant by “spiritual.”

Being “spiritual” is not equivalent to being religious. “Spiritual” equates to your values and how you practice them, regardless of from where you get them.  Certainly, there are those who get their values from their religion and their religion’s scripture and teaching.  But there are other equally legitimate sources, as well.  Some people get their values from great, non-religious literature.  Some people get their values from nature.  And others get theirs from other forms of inspiration. Remember, the person who is crazy is the person who says that their way is the only way.

You may get your values from a garage in Brooklyn.  It doesn’t matter; where you get your values isn’t important.  What’s important is that: 1) You have them; and 2) They are based on sound principles.

So, what is the difference between values and principles?  Imagine a busy city sidewalk with lots of people going about their business.  Now imagine members of a gang who jump out of an alley or doorway as a well-to-do lady passes by and they grab her purse.  They run off, passing the stolen purse back and forth to each other until they eventually disappear into the crowd.  Did these gang members value planning? Yes.  Did these gang members value speed? Yes. Did these gang members value teamwork? Yes.  Were their values based on sound principles? No, their values reflected a total disregard for respecting the property of others.

[When I studied the great religions of the world I found that they all share the same fundamental principles at their core (e.g., don’t hurt others, don’t steal other people’s stuff, don’t lie or cheat, honor your parents, etc.).  Where they begin to differ, is in the way their respective zealots dress up those principles, apply their particular interpretation, cultivate a following of disciples, build a body of cultural norms around their interpretation, develop their own narrative and mythology to reinforce those norms, give it all a name and call it a religion.

Fractures occur over time for reasons ranging from legitimate differences of opinion, to old fashion power struggles, and different sects are created.  Each sect has their own zealots, discipleships, interpretations, cultural norms, narrative and mythology, and name.  Depending on how zealous they are and how tolerant or religiously imperialistic they choose to be, wars between religions and wars between sects break out as one tries to dominate another.  In fact, when not warring with another religion, religious sects will war among themselves.  Most religious wars manifest  by one party taking something (e.g., land, landmarks, physical symbols, etc.) that they believe belongs to them but is in the possession of another, or they will manifest as one religion or sect presumes to impose their beliefs on another, or as one feels compelled to avenge some real or perceived wrong done to them by another.  Of course, whatever the catalyst, it is always done in the name of their particular god(s).]

Someone who is spiritual is one who has values that are based on sound principles, AND they put those values into practice–their values manifest in their behavior and their behavior reflects their values.  Spiritual people are able to subordinate their moods to their values (or at least they work at it).

Someone who is spiritual, may or may not be religious.  Similarly, someone who is religious may or may not be spiritual.  I know people who subscribe to no organized religion but who I regard as spiritual.  I also know people who are highly religious, but are not spiritual.  They practice  their religion’s rituals and profess their religion’s narrative, but I don’t see their religion’s espoused values manifest in their behavior.  I see their moods dominate their behavior, rather than subordinating their moods to the values to which they say they subscribe.

Now that we’re clear on my distinction between being spiritual and being religious, let’s get back to the four dimensions of the human condition: physical/financial, intellectual/psychological, emotional/social, and spiritual.

Think of these dimensions as a muscle.  They must be exercised–use them or lose them.  If you exercise them, they will grow.  If you neglect them, they will atrophy.  The lifestyle you develop is a function of the choices you make in exercising or neglecting each of these dimensions.

You exercise your physical/financial dimension, your body and the physical resources you need to care for it, by how you work them and how you nourish them.  You exercise your intellectual/psychological dimension, your mind, by reading, writing, conversing, and learning, and by how critically and analytically you read, write, converse, and reason.  You exercise your emotional/social dimension, your heart, through the attention and care that you give to the relationships in your life.  Finally, you exercise your spiritual dimension, your soul, by putting your values into practice; more specifically, by striving to subordinate your moods to your values.

So those are the four dimensions of the human condition.  Now let’s get back to the maturity continuum: dependence, independence, and interdependence.

The maturity continuum applies to each of the four dimensions.  One begins life totally dependent on all four dimensions.  Babies and young children are pretty much dependent on their parents or guardians for all of their physical needs, they generally mirror the reasoning of their parents/guardians, they get their sense of self-worth from the social mirror (i.e., what others think of them, principally their parents/guardians), and they rely on their parents/guardians, and others as designated by their parents/guardians, to instill them with a set of values.

As we grow, we strive to achieve independence on each of these four dimensions.  We strive to take care of ourselves physically, to reason for ourselves, to build our own relationships, to nurture our sense of self-worth based, less on the social mirror, and more on our emerging internal mirror, and to cultivate our own set of values (usually through challenge, trial and error, and exploration).

This progression is usually uneven with people achieving physical/financial independence, for example, before they achieve emotional/social independence.  In fact, some people’s progression in a particular dimension may just stop.  There are some people who, through tragedy, will always be physically and/or financially dependent on someone else. There are others who get emotionally stuck and can’t get past the social mirror; they will always get their sense of self-worth from what others think of them.

The highest level of maturity is interdependence.  While I am capable on my own (i.e., independent), I can achieve even more–I can advance even further physically/financially, intellectually/psychologically, emotionally/socially, and/or spiritually, through mutually beneficial collaboration with others (i.e., interdependence).

Just like one must crawl before they walk and walk before they run, so must they achieve independence before they can achieve interdependence.  One cannot be effectively interdependent until they are first responsibly independent.

And that is the goal: achieving a level of maturity along as many dimensions as possible such that your behavior is responsibly independent and effectively interdependent.

A successful marriage, a successful partnership of any kind, requires each party to be mature enough that they are responsibly independent and can be effectively interdependent.  Moreover, as our society and republic evolves and matures, our success increasingly requires a higher degree of responsible independence and effective interdependence from each of us.  Our social systems, our economic systems, our political systems depend on our citizens behaving in ways that are responsibly independent and effectively interdependent.

Fate is what happens to you, but your destiny is determined by how you respond to what happens to you.  Our individual and collective futures will be determined by the extent to which we can individually and collectively achieve a level of maturity where we are responsibly independent and effectively interdependent.  Citizens who achieve this will move us forward; citizens who do not, will hold us back.


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