A Civic Creed For Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Jim Shon

Jim Shon is a former state legislator.

What does it mean to be a good citizen in a world full of challenge and temptation?

What is a philosophy of life, civic engagement and democracy that recognizes human nature and fragility while embracing respect, civility, and a bold and inspirational set of principles?

It is often a challenge to cope with the temptations of too much wealth, power, loyalty to our “team,” fame, luxury, racial or other group prejudices, arrogance, food, sex, or various forms of substance abuse. Too much of any of these is too great a temptation to temper our worst behaviors.

Unfortunately, too many elected and appointed government (and private sector) officials have temporarily or even persistently fallen victims of these inducements. We have created various institutions to contain poor behavior. We have consumer protection, and ethics commissions. We have campaign finance agencies. We have civil rights laws and commissions.

Our national and state constitutions often embrace basic human rights that transcend the decisions of elected officials. We have a judicial branch of government to seek equal treatment, justice, and sort out disputes to hold all of us accountable.

For many, the most dramatic or even challenging approach can come from religion, i.e., love your neighbor — indeed, love your enemy. Oft quoted for some are Matthew’s record of the Sermon on the Mount, when we are encouraged to care about and respect and respond to the poor, the meek, those in mourning, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted. You don’t have to be religious to find these ideals worthy of pursuit.

What does it mean to be a good citizen? (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Many government programs are designed by well meaning, ethical, and honest public servants representing all forms of faith and all forms of atheism. Idealism may be symbolized but does not need a church, or vestments, or rituals, or a clerical hierarchy. They resonate with our better pursuit of “the good.” Some insist it often feels good to be good.

The great debate often centers on whether the beneficiaries of our official programs deserve it. Yet the most radical, and arguably the most challenging approach, is to temper judgement.

What Is The Good Citizen?

Can the idea of “good” be applied to our citizenship? Here are four criteria:

No. 1 — The Good Citizen has learned and can remember key historical events in the creation and development of democracy, including seminal documents and the ideas contained therein; but it is not enough to have “taken” American and world history courses and scored well on tests.

No. 2 — The Good Citizen has nurtured an intellectual capacity to critically analyze ideas, philosophies, and interpretations, and to develop an active habit of mind in evaluating books, texts, media, and all manner of communications; but it is not enough if the knowledge and capacity to think critically are not applied in the real world.

No. 3 — The Good Citizen actively participates in civic life, including political life, but it is not enough to routinely vote every couple of years.

No. 4 — The Good Citizen has an admirable character, genuinely cares about the wellbeing of other citizens in the immediate community and the larger national and global society, reflecting idealism and a sense of personal responsibility. In other words, citizenship education is related to character education.

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Attitudes Matter

The pursuit of responding to worthy human needs, versus selfish desires, requires a commitment to be as knowledgeable as possible. A lazy policy maker may well become arrogant, patronizing, colonial, abusive, and overly judgmental: “I will decide for you.” Women and various races and minorities of all kinds have lived with this presumptive arrogance for all of history.

Sometimes hating certain people is seen as being moral or ethical. We seek to deter poor behavior with fines, punishments, prisons, wars, even the death penalty. We use the deadliest force to subdue mildly illegal behavior.

To respond to real human needs implies curiosity, diligence, and devotion to data and science and a continuum of adjustments for improvements. Ego gets in the way. Privilege of credentials, or status, or wealth, or party or religion gets in the way. Justice can be seen as avoiding injustice, but too often it may mean you got what you deserved.

It is essential to have an attitude of humility in this pursuit. To respect a wide range of people and their contributions. To resist the impulse to take personal credit for the work of others, or take criticism personally. And this is especially to set aside the defense of the reputation of an institution (a state, an agency, a school, a House or Senate, an administration, a church, a party, a nation) when it works against our better purposes.

Doing Good

In considering a civic creed, not unrelated are Dr. Kent Keith’s “Paradoxical Commandments.”
These are:

  • People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
  • If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  • If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
  • The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  • Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
  • The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
  • People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
  • What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
  • People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
  • Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

This brief is a work in progress. Please share or amend as desired.

Obviously, it is personal. You may have other inspirational quotes or sources that are even better.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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About the Author

Jim Shon

Jim Shon is a former state legislator.

Latest Comments (0)

ICommentn 1980 I wrote this poem, thinking of Palaka Cloth as a symbol of Hawaii.Thinking of Palaka....Reflecting on Hawaii in the 1980s1980 poem...We Are WeaversThrough our handsBright notions ravel,Velvet MountainsRainbows calling.Oceans yearning.We toil and dance to the imagesWe're learning.Hues entwining destinies,Each threadHeld by dependencies,The opposites pursue their courses,Appreciate each others' sourcesIn Kapakahi Harmoney.We are Weavers.A blue-eyed girl, a golden man.A pristine valley,A human alley,Are woven strong and kind.It's our differences that bind.If ever it's deniedWe will unravel.We are Weavers.We seek to join the strands of time,The present, past and futureIntero a patterned line,A quilt of forceful images,a strong and gentle tapestry,Our vision will expand,To nurture,Warm,Protect,And beautifythe land.We are Weavers.Share

JimShon · 3 weeks ago

Practice aloha. Looking to indigenous value systems globally in order to create a present that can help the industrialized West imagine but also actively shape a sustainable future is going to be key for the survival of many species, including humans.

Pangnapang · 4 weeks ago

Aloha Uncle Jim Shon, thank you for your thoughtful insights. You remain THE STANDARD from when I first me you on O'ahu living with Aunty Marion and Uncle John Kelly at their Kupikipikio (BlackPoint) home. Thank you for sharing your mana'o for the betterment of the conditions of our Community. Thank you for your extraordinary kokua and care which allowed me to sit at Table 2 in the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom, for the son of US President George Herbert Walker Bush in US President George Walker Bush, next to the "Big Dogs of Kauai Island" which included a DLNR Chairperson and taking pictures with my "Uncommon Friends" as well as my Godfathers from Maui No Ka 'Oi! LA'A; MA'A; PA'A! Aloha Ke Akua, Shon 'Ohana. Me Ke Aloha Maluhia, Manny

Manuel.Kuloloia · 4 weeks ago

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