“What Is Your Responsibility To Your Country?”

A friend  posed a question to me that they were asked in a meeting recently. It caused me to stop and think. The question was:

“What is your responsibility to your country?”

My first response to that question is a quote from an article I read related to civil rights and the events in Ferguson which said “ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can undo for you.”

That quote really resonated with me because I think it speaks to the government sanctioned, institutionalized inequity that exists in this country and abroad.

After giving it more thought, I realized that each of us has a role in undoing what the country has done.

Not long ago I facilitated a cultural simulation activity which involved splitting up students into two groups, with each group getting a different set of instructions as to what their rules were, and how they should interact with people who weren’t a part of their group.

The groups were in separate rooms, and each group would periodically send visitors to the other side for the purpose of trying to figure out what was happening, and when they returned, they would try to explain to their own group about what kind of people were in the other group. (They’d create all kinds of stereotypes about each other in this process, but highlighting how we do that about others was part of the point)

The group I facilitated was stratified by gender and socioeconomic status, with a matriarch who was appointed to rule them all. According to the instructions for the group, her words were final, and she could make up rules as she went along, and change them as she saw fit.

Sometimes when I’ve done this activity before, the person appointed as the queen used her role to further uplift herself and make the hierarchy and inequality more intense.

However, what I witnessed recently when I facilitated this activity was a queen who, shortly after being appointed, began to dismantle the inequitable system that had been laid out before the game started.

brickwall falling smallThe one rule she held to was that her decisions were final, but step by step she eliminated the disparities in social classes, evenly redistributed the wealth (in the form of chips for the game.

Some participants had more than others, which dictated their social status) so that everyone had an equal share, and lastly removed her ability to make final and lasting decisions on her own, giving the ability to the people in the group, including herself among them instead of being their “ruler”.

She totally flipped the game! And it was amazing.

For me, it reminded me of the importance of continuing to increase my awareness of myself and others, and the powerful impact that a person can have when that awareness is combined with influence and agency.

So while I’ll still agree with  the quote “ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can undo for you” when I think about social injustice,  I’m still always on the lookout for ways I can work to dismantle what has been done on my end too, with the influence, privilege, and agency that I have.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW, LLMSW



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I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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