When I was in elementary school, there was an award given out weekly to one student in each grade level, kindergarten through sixth grade; the Citizen of the Week. While I do not recall much about it, I know I received it a few times, and my mom was really happy when I did.

At that age, what are the criteria for displaying good citizenship? Did I work well in groups? Did I lead a line extraordinarily well? Did I pick up my construction paper scraps and dispose them into the trash every time?

What Does Good Citizenship Mean?

How is citizenship different as an adult vs. being a 10-year-old? By definition, citizenship is officially declaring, by law, a person’s affiliation with a specific nation (i.e., an American citizen). And while we are citizens of our country, it’s what we do in our daily practice that determines if we are “doing good” with that citizenship.

On a micro level, such as at my elementary school, or perhaps in a fraternity or even a workout group, we are all a part of communities, big and small, and therefore are citizens of those communities.

You will get little argument on why strong leaders are an important element of a community. But it is the existence of good citizens that make a community great. History has shown that even the greatest leaders, the people who had the amazing ability to lead a charge, were not exactly the moral compasses of society. They were great leaders, not great citizens.

What Makes a Good Citizen?

What do I believe are the characteristics that make up a good citizen?

Good citizens are selfless. They lift others without the expectation or need to be lifted up themselves.

Good citizens are teachers. They spread their expert knowledge because they want to make others better.

Good citizens are challengers. They encourage others in the community to go further than they think they can while being a cheerleader along the way.

Good citizens are connectors. They are the bridge, not the roadblock, between two people. Rather than always being the one with the supposed answer, they will guide a person to someone else with the best answer.

Good citizens always show up. They are always there because, well, they want to be a part of every opportunity to teach, challenge and connect with their community.

I hope adults practice good citizenship and those values trickle down to a younger generation.


Earlier I asked if there was a difference in characteristics of a good citizen between a child and an adult. For me, there is no difference. We should strive to be good humans without expecting anything in return.

We cannot declare, “I want to be a good citizen.” It’s not a goal we can set at the beginning of the year. It’s just something we should be doing naturally. My hope is that adults practice good citizenship among their peers and those values trickle down to a younger generation.


Imaging a Good Citizenship Epidemic

Imagine if we all routinely “showed up” in our communities as selfless teachers that challenged and connected each other? Imagine that we did it without expectation or the need for recognition?

Perhaps that’s why I cannot remember why I was given the award back in 6th grade. Not only because it was a long time ago, but also because it likely was not because of a single incident. It was just me, unknowingly, being a good citizen.

And now I understand why that would make my mom happy. Now that I am a parent, if my daughter brought home an award like that, I would be happy and proud too.

Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash
If there was an award given for good citizenship, what would it take to earn it? What are the characteristics that make a good citizen?