Let’s first define citizenship.
As well as the last 35 years in education, I’ve spent the last 10 years as a community connector in a non-profit. My role was to bring people together. Help people make new friends who connect through hobbies, topics, and activities. Sometimes a person would come to me and say they just can’t find the right group. After some time talking with them, it usually came down to a group of people not knowing how to welcome in a stranger so that the person feels like they belong. Yet, there were other times I found that when people served in a group, they felt like they belonged. I wondered what that was all about.
So I did some informal research. I started talking with group leaders, visiting different groups, and joining some myself, just to see if I could understand the communities better. What I found was interesting. People like to be with people who are like themselves. Often clicks are just a group of people who like each other and are either afraid of outsiders, intimidated by them, or just don’t want to have a lot of friends. There is safety in a click. But we all know that clicks are what keep outsiders from belonging. It’s more than just fitting in.
From the Cambridge Dictionary, belonging is:
“a feeling of being happy or comfortable as part of a particular group and having a good relationship with the other members of the group because they welcome you and accept you”
Being a citizen does not mean you just fit into a country, city, or community. Being a citizen means you belong someplace.Often when you belong, you then contribute. When you don’t feel like you belong, you can feel like your thoughts, talents, and abilities are not valued or welcomed, or you are not accepted. On the other hand, true belonging often inspires service.
Where does actual belonging start? What does this have to do with being a digital citizen?
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.” Mother Theresa
Most of us have seen a rock being thrown into the water. The ripples go far and wide. Belonging starts with one person being kind — inviting an outsider in — they in turn invite others in. Belonging happens when you have been invited in and given space to thrive.
In some ancient writings, there is a story of a man named Zacchaeus. He climbed into a tree because he was short. He wanted to see what was going on as Jesus, a miracle worker, was walking by. Jesus ended up calling him by his name. The story goes on that then Jesus went and ate in his home, and Zacchaeus became a follower.
When someone is kind, they call them by name, and a friendship forms. That person feels like they belong because a simple act of kindness was extended. Zacchaeus, as the story goes, was a bad dude during his day — a tax collector. Yet Jesus extended kindness to him. Even went to his home for dinner. Zacchaeus felt welcomed, and then welcomed others. Jesus engaged the community and later so did Zacchaeus. Kindness gives more kindness. — Ripple effect
John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address inspired children and adults to see the importance of civic action and public service. He said, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country?” This is owning your citizenship. Instead of complaining about our country, state, or city — ask ourselves what we can do. This is citizenship. When we contribute, we start the ripple effect.
Digital citizenship is the same. We can spend hours scrolling, searching, reading, and taking in content. But how do we engage? What can you do to invite others into a life-giving community on the internet? A friend of mine said, “A healthy citizen considers the needs of others. They value their community and seek to build it up.”