BY J.M. RAYBURN
Private citizens in ancient Greece who did not contribute to politics and the community were known as idiotes, originating from the word idios which means “the self.” If you did not demonstrate social responsibility and political awareness, you were considered apathetic, uneducated and ignorant. By ancient Greek standards, we have become a nation of American idiots.
We have become a nation of American idiots — at least by Ancient Greek standards. The word idiot has a fascinating history and offers an important lesson in modern civic responsibility. Today, we use the word to denote a person of low intelligence, which is a pretty watered-down version from its original meaning. The word idiot was first absorbed into the English language following the Norman Conquest of 1066, when William the Conqueror (Duke of Normandy and, later, William I of England) invaded the island of Britain from his home base in northern France. The word idiot existed in the French language as a carry-over from its Latin roots. In Latin, the word idiota was used to describe someone uneducated, ignorant, inexperienced or common. Latin borrowed idiota from ancient Greek. Private citizens in ancient Greece who did not contribute to politics and the community were known as idiotes, originating from the word idios which means “the self.” If you did not demonstrate social responsibility and political awareness you were considered apathetic, uneducated and ignorant.
The good news is we have an opportunity to change that in 2019. It starts with an appreciation that we all have a role to play in the betterment of our communities. The truth is you don’t have to run for office to fulfill your civic duties in a democracy. Here are three ways you can contribute to politics and the community as a private citizen:
- Above all, register to vote. Verify that your voter registration information is up-to-date. Vote early, vote often and vote with friends! Know anyone turning 18-years-old next year? Give them a voter registration application on their birthday and encourage them to have their voice heard on the ballot.
- If you find yourself with an appetite for more, consider serving on a public board or commission. The City of Columbus offers a variety of opportunities to serve on a neighborhood commission, citizen advisory panel or a historic preservation board. Typically these meet once a month and the only requirement for eligibility is that you live, work or own property in the areas served by the board or commission. You will find similar opportunities in suburban communities as well, and even on the regional level through the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. The point is these boards and commissions demonstrate social responsibility and political awareness by those who serve and by the members of the public that show up to participate.
- If serving on a public board or commission isn’t a possibility in 2019, then consider lending your time, passion and expertise on the board of a nonprofit organization. More often than not, the boards of nonprofits comprise of volunteers that help further an important cause or expand the reach of a community service. They are in every short supply of local champions that bring new ideas and energy.
Don’t be an idiot in 2019. You don’t have to run for office to make a difference. You can vote, you can serve your neighborhood, or you can serve as a champion for a cause. Whichever path you choose, just show up and show out.
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