A narrow, literal definition of citizenship is "the act of living in a city." But many people use the term to indicate the general or specific roles, rights or duties of people within a given society. To federal government officials, a person either is or isn't a legal "citizen" of the United States.
    My use of the word citizenship for this essay is in its literal sense. I want to explain my outlook of how people live together in cities, and how they may live in an ideal set of circumstances. Since I have lived exclusively in Seattle, and most of my traveling has been in cities, I do not feel qualified to write about rural living.
    The great majority of people live in cities. This is no chance occurrence. Even long before our present age of giant cities, even before ancient Rome, people tended to live in concentration, in whatever size of community their environment allowed. Probably the human desire to live in close company is instinctive. We look upon hermits as unfortunate; we readily agree that "friendship doubles joy and divides grief."
    The issue, then, is what is the best we can do together? For example, whether we are ideally clustered in small cities, or in fewer very large ones. And does our density affect not only resource consumption, but our psyche? Do crowding conditions cause chronic stress, and sometimes extreme violent outbursts? Social scientists and serious students can give reasoned, well-supported answers to such questions; I cannot. Yet we all have our opinions about ideal densities and city sizes. It's quite easy to say "less traffic is desirable," as are "numerous cultural opportunities, plenty of balance between housing and other buildings; between open space and built things." All this contemplation is big-picture or outside the realm of everyday affairs of individuals. You may live on a quiet street or a busy one. You may participate in many civic activities, or in few.
    My preference is to be very involved with those civic groups and concerns nearest to my home and heart, or which seem to demand my presence. I participate in my neighborhood community club, sit on advisory boards or steering committees; donate hours of expertise, labor and money -- to the degree I can. It is probably not an exaggeration to say I neglect my "personal life" by being too concerned with the public welfare.
    Volunteerism takes many forms. It is sort of an applied or practical patriotism, where instead of merely saying "I support this," you prove it by working. I have a hunch my time is nearly half donated to volunteer causes. But I believe also it is better to do what one loves or feels called to do, even if it is payless financially -- than to be paid richly to do work which is neutral in meaning or that causes one pangs of guilt or other serious unrest. I advise a person to choose, say, a $25,000 job doing what he or she loves, rather than $50,000 doing something only for the money. If more of us insisted on meaningful work, high standards, clean consciences, and tried harder to help each other, we'd all be better off.
    There is too much hate, unhappiness and competition presently. And many of us who don't necessarily commit crimes, or do obnoxious things, still don't do enough for others. Some folks dear to me would never rob or rape, cheat or vandalize -- but they contribute no time or money (or practically none) to worthy non-profit causes or social improvements. To me, with my concept of citizenship, a person can still be deemed "selfish" if the extant of his or her's activity is centered with his or her's family and neglects the rest of the community: neighbors, even folks across town.
    To me, voting is not a virtue, it is a basic duty of involved mature adults; to not vote is a sign of not caring. Yes, some say "it doesn't make any difference." But it does: many elections are close. If a minority of us vote, we're not in a truly representative democracy. We'll get led by those who vote and who write letters to congress. I vote in every election, yet if I have not spent enough time to decide which candidate to support, I skip on to the next contest. Nor do I vote for unopposed judges (what a waste!).
    To live in a peaceful household, members adhere to a code of conduct, where mutual respect and responsibility ensures safe, stable continuity. The household ethics may be rigid and codified, or may be lose, contested and subject to shouting and fits. As it is in a household, so it is with a city. We have laws and law-enforcement, as well as unwritten peer pressure to guide our actions.
    What's still more important, is our individual philosophy, what we were taught by our parents, what we resolved on our own. The "laws" of our own mind may be more or less different from those governing society in general, but they are of paramount importance to our lifestyle, including our relations with others, and, ultimately, they affect/determine whether we lead a life of one kind or another.
    Some folks, in good conscience, cannot get involved with volunteering, voting, or busying themselves about what other people are doing. Their mindsets, for whatever reasons, focus inwardly, or embrace at any rate a narrow view. Fine, I don't propose that those of us who are activists in our communities must coerce everyone else to imitate us. However I do favor gentle encouragement, setting good examples, and trying to remain on civil terms with everyone -- even those people who do things we hate. For example, I like diverse, naturalistic landscapes with even weeds here and there. But some folks prefer crew-cut lawns, trimmed junipers and a row of identical trees. Even though I think their preference is ecologically stunted and visually appalling, I try to be fiendly with such people. After all, we doubtless have other things wholly in common, be it sports, cooking, favorite music, whatever.
    It is harder to be friendly with people who do things which most of us consider abominable. How can I not be horrified at people who sexually abuse children? At people who belong to terrorist gangs? Even to the degree that good citizens try to overlook minor differences of opinion with peers, we have a duty to frown upon and fight those customs or habits which we feel are morally or otherwise very wrong or damaging. At the very least we must express our disapproval. In short, we must actively communicate, both to praise what we favor and condemn what we deplore. To be silent and "mind one's own business" is not citizenship; it is a rejection of humanity.
    I suppose the number of neighbors I know on a familiar basis is exceptionally large. It can be awkward, but overall I love it. Since I've been in the same place for so long, I feel a great sense of awareness, both as to people and the surroundings. It is heartening to know that in a pinch I can count on help cheerfully supplied. My immediate block hosts parties often, where we neighbors get together. Usually these parties are when new folks move in, or after a funeral or wedding, or are holiday centered, or revolve around a common work project.
    Citywide, I've developed such a large acquaintance that it is not an unmixed blessing. Knowing hundreds of people means being forced to spend very little time with most of them. Some people who don't experience an awkwardly large acquaintance, blame me for my (to them) apparent aloofness. They think I dislike them because when they repeatedly say "drop by sometime" it seems I never do. Well, dozens of people tell me to drop by; I could spend all of my time doing nothing else.
    My social priorities include, not in any fixed order, but above all: family, longtime friends; crucial business or volunteer networking; neighbors. A second tier offers: potential friends, friends of friends or family, miscellaneous organizations which I support when I can squeeze them into my schedule. Last are: newcomers after me for guidance, women after me seriously but in whom I see nothing to make me encourage them; organizations not dear to my heart; telephone solicitors of nearly anything.
    I enjoy teaching, including tutoring. I like to share what I know, and, more importantly to encourage, to inspire, and to act as an example -- especially to impressionistic young adults. If I was told to choose between spending an evening with 50-year olds and 25-year olds, I'd choose the latter, because I'd rather try to help them, than enjoy an amusing but rather otherwise immaterial evening with the mature crowd.
    When one participates in a group, be it an ad hoc group or a day-to-day affair, there is a tension, a chemistry of sorts, with the varying personalities working together. Sort of akin to different flavor and textures combining to make a meal. Well, some groups (and meals) are much superior to others. In the kitchen it is the skill of the cook, the quality of the ingredients, the timing. With people however, many more variables are at work.
    I love being in the presence of skilled communicators, who thrive in groups and make everyone feel good and valuable. There are skills we can all learn along that line. Group diplomacy and interaction is a learned behavior just like, say, learning sportsmanship, or manners. I like gradually improving my abilities, smoothing my rough edges, polishing my good points.
    All in all, I dearly relish living in a rich, diverse city and knowing many people. Of course I am biased by living in an exceptionally quiet, well-located spot, and by having had enough time to make numerous contacts, and to learn to ideally "suck the nectar" from the bones of my city. Thus, a newcomer, living in the same city in a poorer spot, might hate the place.
    Some of my friends of great community value, well educated, delightful people altogether -- have either fled the city or want to. They go or want to go to suburbs or rural areas. I want to stay here, making Seattle more desirable, healing its wounds, increasing its beauty. Most of us live in big cities. Let's work together to make them places of joy, of plenty, of sharing, of beauty. Yes, there is risk of crime, of pollution, of high costs. But I am still optimistic and content. Fleeing to homogeneous, sanitized suburbs, or to life on a farm, is not for me. I think it never will be.