Much of our work in OCE is connected to The Active Citizens Continuum. The continuum describes how an individual can develop in their commitment to community.
Member: concerned with their individual or family’s needs
Volunteer: participates in service with intentions of doing good
Conscientious Citizen: adds questions about root causes to their engagement
Active Citizen: prioritizes community in their values and life choices
Melody and River last year
Often when I am talking through the continuum with students, I ask for suggestions of a person who fits into each category. My favorite example of a member is River Porter, two year old daughter of our director. River is surrounded by active citizens and her mother is already cultivating her sense of care for others, but River’s prime motivation is herself. That makes sense because she’s a baby!
But babies aren’t the only people for whom a member mentality make sense.
Imagine experiencing homelessness, being the only caretaker of an unwell family member, working three jobs while going to school, or even being in the midst of mid-terms. There are lots of times when the circumstances of life demand, or at least loudly call, for us to focus on ourselves and those around us. That can be especially true for those experiencing the challenges that active citizens are working to address.
I have been thinking about the member mentality quite a bit recently because I’ve been spending some time there myself. In preparation for a sustainability service program, I began evaluating my own sustainable practices. I started composting my food waste, changing my diet, using fewer non-recyclable products, and considering the impact of my actions.
And then Frosty came along.
Frosty is a 10 year old dog I am fostering for Heritage Humane Society. Suddenly, helping Frosty feel comfortable and being a responsible caretaker became priority. Just as suddenly, I stopped composting and was much more concerned about finding a food Frosty would eat (hotdogs!) than figuring out the impact of the food I ate.
Bringing Frosty into my life didn’t mean I lost my active citizenship perspective. I am still very aware of how my actions (and inaction) affect myself and my community. Taking care of Frosty did however, change my behaviors for now. I am slowly learning to care for a dog and myself while re-introducing those sustainability choices that matter to me.
Sometimes when I talk about the Active Citizens Continuum, students assume that the further they are on the continuum the better. It’s true that I hope we can all practice active citizenship, but if you are in a member mentality, whether you are a baby, a dog-caretaker, or any human doing the best that you can, know that just being you makes us a stronger community too.