Citizenship, Personal Power and Responsibility

CPR of a different life-saving kind?

Orson Welles said: “We’re born alone, we live alone and we die alone”. He also added: “Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for a moment that we’re not alone.” Illusions aside, the fact is we live in a world with others – first as part of a nuclear unit and then as part of an ever-broadening social network. We are individuals in the human race but also members of communities. With a worldwide pandemic and alarming incidences of human brutality, what does this mean for our behaviour, what is expected of us and how do we meet what we have the capacity to fulfil?

Citizenship, personal power and responsibility (CPR) are showing themselves up in varying degrees. It’s a cardiopulmonary-resuscitation of a metaphorical kind.

For purposes of this article, citizenship refers to how all people should behave in a society. Citizenship implies adhering to stipulated norms and behaving in a manner deemed appropriate. An upstanding citizen would be a person whose conduct would be considered good and moral. Good citizens show respect towards others and respect what they have, who they are and what they own. They consider others and are helpful. They listen to different perspectives and accept difference.

Why a comment on citizenship?

The year 2020 will go down in history for many reasons, not least of which should be an understanding of how we behaved as citizens during a corona virus pandemic or responded to issues of gender-based violence and racial discrimination. Like the heart to the body, the mechanisms that keep society functioning depend upon strength but also integrity, rhythm, regulated action and clearly defined purpose. Citizenship depends on individual personal power and a sense of responsibility. This implies adhering to regulations that support and protect one another, showing respect for human life and contributing to keeping the system moving. It’s the reason upstanding citizens wear masks and wash their hands regularly. They accept their duty to model effective behaviour to others and encourage others to do the same. They treat people with respect and compassion. They are egalitarian and humanitarian, first and foremost.

What is personal power?

Individuals who can make clear decisions and act in a deliberate manner to achieve what they want have a measure of personal power. Personal power means acting in a way that is conscious and intentional. People with personal power feel in control of their environments and effect change in positive or optimistic ways. Personal power is like the air we breathe and the oxygen we need for survival. It’s the force which keeps systems going and maintains or creates movement when change is needed.  

Why is personal power important?

When faced with challenges, personal power is the vehicle that helps us navigate obstacles, forge new paths, respond to challenges and manage setbacks. Personal power helps us move through change and adapt to variable possibilities. In a year like 2020, citizens who access their personal power may rise stronger, healthier and ahead of those who fail to act. People exercising their personal power will adapt to new ways of working and living, or will access creative solutions. They will unite with key players and remain committed to an overall positive outcome. They will lean on their values of citizenship to get the job done. They will not collude with that which keeps destructive mechanisms thriving.  

How do we understand responsibility?

Responsibility is a duty to make sure certain things get done or are looked after. It’s about being held accountable for or answerable to our actions – those things we say and do that we can control or manage. We are all responsible for some things – many things in fact. In South Africa, we have a Bill of Responsibilities to support the Bill of Rights – the right to citizenship, the right to equality, the right to life and the right to a safe environment, among others. We are expected to obey the laws, make sure others do the same and contribute in every way to making our country great. Honouring our responsibilities and being accountable is evidence of the life force that keeps the system beating.

What’s going on in 2020?

A number of events in 2020 have highlighted and magnified who we are and how we behave. While there have been significant losses and changes beyond wild imaginings, there is also opportunity. We may be in this alone, but we are also in it together. This kind of CPR requires individual choice but it also relies on collective action. We need to ask who we are as citizens, whether we appreciate or desecrate the personal power we hold and to what extent we honour our responsibilities – to ourselves, to one another and to the environments in which we find ourselves. This CPR not only defines the lives we live, but also brings us back to life.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


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