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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Civic Duty

Thinking about civic matters

During the buildup to the 2022 midterm election cycle I encountered a number of information sources which declared that voting is a civic duty. Throughout my life I’ve heard about civil responsibilities and have accepted these claims at face value.

However, since I began practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) I’ve conditioned myself to dispute bold claims, irrational beliefs, and covert as well as overt should, must, and ought-type statements.

As well, I explore matters of personal responsibility and accountability when using REBT. In the interest of critical thinking and inquiry regarding national accountability I will think through this matter within the blog entry.

It’s worth noting that when working with clients I highlight three general approaches to thinking. The first is intracranial or simply within the head; more specifically, in the mind.

While this form of cognitive processing may be useful it isn’t without drawbacks. Simply allowing thoughts to metaphorically ricochet within the mind doesn’t by default allow for challenge to whatever content we contemplate.

The second form is through writing. Particularly useful when focusing on problem solving tasks, writing allows a person to filter information and reflect upon understanding of an issue.

I invite my clients to journal in between sessions much for the same reason I write most of my blog entries. While some people express fear of the notion that what is written is essentially etched in stone, I reject the assertion.

Though I may take a stance and write about it today, I am allowed to revise and update my beliefs with added information. Besides, I don’t make a habit of living my life steeped in fear.

The final method of higher order thinking relates to the verbal skill of talking. Though “speech is a relatively recent evolutionary development,” there appears to be some effect that occurs during verbal processing which allows for clarity of thought.

I encourage my clients to use self-talk when possible, as this technique simulates the process that occurs through talk therapy. Though I acknowledge there are different styles of thinking and learning, I first prefer verbal, second written, and intracranial last—in order from greatest to least.

Since I want to give the topic of civic duty more attention than intracranial thinking allows, and because I’m not speaking about this matter with another person at present, I will think through writing this blog entry. You’re welcome to tag along. If not, no problem.

Civic duty

To begin, I think defining terms may be useful. Merriam-Webster defines civic as “of or relating to a citizen, a city, citizenship, or community affairs.” The same source defines duty in this context as “a moral or legal obligation.”

In a recent post entitled Magic Beans Forgiveness I addressed duties and rights from a United States (U.S.) Constitution framework. For the current post, civic duty is at its core understood to mean a U.S. citizen’s obligation.

Per one source, “To carry out one’s civic duty is to honor the implicit contract between the government and the people.” Wait, what? I’ve not obligated myself to an “implicit contract.”

When considering what a contract is, one source states, “A contract is an agreement between two parties that creates an obligation to perform (or not perform) a particular duty.” To what contract—implicit or explicit—am I obligated when I don’t know the details of the agreement?

Without answers to this question, one may blindly succumb to the demands of others who declare, “[Civic duty voting is] a full embrace of democracy: It insists that every citizen has a role to play in our nation’s public life and in constructing our future.”

Insistence to a role through the democratic process infers a should, must, or ought imperative. Why must I cast a ballot if I don’t want to? Am I not allowed the option of civic indifference when it comes to voting, perhaps as a conscientious objector of sorts?

I suppose it all depends on what civic duties are mandatory and which are considered voluntary. For instance, the U.S. government mandates, “Today, all conscientious objectors are required to register with the Selective Service System,” unless of course you’re female.

It is therefore worth differentiating between mandatory and voluntary civic duties in order to understand imperatives attributed to the voting process. I now turn to one source when considering this matter:

Mandatory duties include obeying the law, paying taxes, serving on a jury when summoned, and registering with the Selective Service—again, only for males. Another word for duties in this case is obligations.

Voluntary responsibilities include voting, staying informed, community involvement, practicing tolerance, and passing it on. In this regard another term for responsibilities is burden.

Whereas I may be subject to a penalty for failing to meet my legal obligation to obey U.S. laws, the same penalties don’t apply to the moral, ethical, or societal burden of voting. One is a forced duty, the other an optional agreement.

Concerning this standard, one can simply forego optional agreements. Regarding civic duties, one source states that “for a person to be entitled to something in society, he or she must offer something to society in return.”

We get into some pretty dicey territory here, because females don’t share the same responsibility as males regarding the ultimate responsibility to one’s nation—the mandated requirement to die on behalf of one’s nation if ordered to do so by way of the draft. Yet, I digress.

If I forego an optional agreement, referred to elsewhere as an “implicit contract between the government and the people,” what are the consequences of my actions—or in this case of choosing not to vote, a lack of action?

I’ve found a significant number of sources which essentially shame people into performing what is considered the voluntary civic responsibility of voting. Far too many than I care to list, I do want to highlight a quote I think is worth addressing.

Per one source, “Democracy is itself, a religious faith. For some it comes close to being the only formal religion they have.” In my blogpost Disturbing Democracy I noted how U.S. democracy is often conflated with constitutional federal republicanism.

Regardless of how one chooses to frame what form of government exists in this nation, I think the aforementioned quote sums of my current perspective. Democracy, or merging terms—democratic republicanism aligns with a faith-based system of operation.

As a matter of self-disclosure, in the early part of my life I was raised under the tenets of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was then transitioned into a nondenominational Christian church. Exposure to both faiths was as a child and during a time when I had no choice in the matter.

Later in my youth and into early adulthood, I transitioned into the Church of Christ faith. Currently, I identify as areligious. I’m not pro- or anti-religion, as I’m more agnostic than any other option.

Nonetheless, I recognize religiosity—strong religious belief—when I see it. I am not alone in my observation, as one source remarks that “democracy has become the most vital, the most crucial, the most forward-looking religion of our time.”

I support the negative liberty of people being able to worship as they please. Likewise, I advocate people being able to vote at the altar of democracy if they so choose.

What I wonder is are others tolerant and accepting in regards to the actions of those who desire not to do the same? After all, one of the above sources plainly lists “practicing tolerance” as a voluntary responsibility of U.S. citizens.

Dear reader, has it been your experience over the past decade to observe the practice of tolerance within this nation? Are partisan political actors and their holier-than-thou leaders of democratic faith tolerant of opposing political parties?

Were those who were quick to support authoritarian COVID-19 lockdowns, apprehension of those who dared not wear masks, tyrannical enforcement of vaccine requirements, and shaming of those who dared to question official narratives representative of tolerant behavior?

Is it tolerant to attribute funding for various government programs to one race of individuals while foregoing support to members of another race? How is operation of a two-tiered sociopolitical class within the U.S. in any way demonstrable of tolerance for civil rights?

Perhaps it’s necessary to require males to register for the Selective Service, because with liberty comes responsibility, though how is it tolerant not to require the same standard for females? What message of tolerance is understood by this unequal treatment of nation members?

Where is the tolerance of political opinion differences, controversial viewpoints, or consideration of so-called conspiracy theories? The majority of what I observe is intolerance, mocking, shaming, and the ousting of dissenting perspectives.

If civic responsibilities include voting and practicing tolerance, though tolerance is largely absent from civil discourse, why then is voting declared by some people as a duty? A civically optional agreement, I can understand; however, a civically forced duty, I think not.

Of course, I accept the opinions of those who disagree with my position. I suspect that many people would scoff at my attempt to contemplate this matter, because it seems to be a foregone conclusion to a significant number of people.

Voting is merely accepted as a civic duty, simple as. We can agree to disagree. I choose not to vote and others can choose to label me however they like due to this fact.

For the record, I want to be clear. I’m not implying that anyone shouldn’t, mustn’t, or oughtn’t to vote. I’m not the moral arbiter of the universe, nor do I care if a person does or doesn’t vote.

I suspect a truly tolerant person would unconditionally accept others. Then again, who am I fooling? I live in the U.S. where “the flag can be seen as representative of white (and male) power.

Apparently, my two active duty military service enlistments were in support of systemic oppression. If that’s the premise, why on earth would I want to vote in a structural system of persecution?

I think I’ll stick to thinking through matters and helping people when I can through the provision of mental health services. I’ll leave the rest of the voluntary duties to those who are intolerant of people like me.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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