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What I Really Know About Civic Duty: Reading the News

The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Below, reader Connie Shakalis of Huntington Station, N.Y., shares what she really knows about civic duty.

Ensconced in my recliner, I practice my civic duty. I’m reading the newspaper. Yes, I try to vote in all elections, and I served as foreman on jury duty. But what good are my votes or judgments if I have scant grasp of the issues in question?

Cozy in my chair, I try to develop the habit of studying—and, OK, the hard part, understanding—the op-ed pages, reading civic-minded books and paying attention to interviews with smart people. My civic duty is to know what’s going on out there and to make decisions based on that knowledge.

I’m 55 years old, so my particular values have long been established. The trick is to deploy those values with knowledge and compassion. It’s a challenge. I’ve been splendidly efficient in fulfilling my fun duties, my job duties, my relationship duties. It’s a bit harder to get inspired to sit down and learn about who is running for local office or what is on the school budget. I’ve been lax in fulfilling my civic duty—my responsibility, as a somewhat competent and capable member of civilization, to be aware, to care.

This won’t hack it. Only after reading, thinking, comparing, questioning and listening can I consider myself ready to vote or to decide what a plaintiff or defendant should receive. Only then can I be ready to bite into my duty as a valuable member of the civic community. If I can support issues that truly need support, become aware of what needs change and what doesn’t, then I can consider myself someone who acts in a meaningful, civic-minded way.

The midsummer sun glazes over my front yard outside the window. There are at least seven shops within walking distance that make hot-fudge sundaes. I want to kayak, to slurp whipped cream! But I recline inside, thinking about civic duty. It’s a start.


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