Why this initiative?
The Global Civic Obligation + Responsibility Initiative was born in the summer of 2020, when the COVID pandemic was raging throughout the world. The issue of why it seemed so difficult to get individuals to take simple steps to control the spread of the pandemic prompted some deeper thinking on human behavior. Why do individuals seem unwilling to do what is necessary to advance the common good? Can we--locally, nationally, globally--possibly agree on what the common good is?
In the United States, where I am based, the current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a reality that my fellow Americans generally don’t think about. Americans have been asked—mostly voluntarily—to wear face coverings or masks in order to prevent people who may have been infected from infecting others and to protect people in general from being stricken with this airborne virus. But compliance with that request has been mixed, depending on what part of the country people live in, their age, their political views, their beliefs about personal choices and freedoms.
This situation raises larger questions about what Americans believe to be their civic obligation: what they are obliged to do not simply for themselves but for the benefit of society as a whole. In reality, there are very few things that Americans are “asked” to do. There are things that are required by law, but not everyone complies. Adults are required to serve on juries (though many, many try to be excused). They are asked to pay taxes (though many go to elaborate lengths to avoid them). They are asked to vote (though voting levels in the United States are low compared to many places around the world). They are encouraged to take vaccines (but a growing number consider themselves to be anti-vaxxers and refuse to do so). They are encouraged to recycle (though participation is mixed from town to town). In truth, civic obligation is not something that is generally required from Americans.
In part this seems to due to a powerful belief in individual choice in the United States—a belief that Americans have rights and freedoms that give them the ability to do as they please—from freedoms of speech and assembly to freedom to bear arms.