April 2014 Bar Bulletin
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April 2014 Bar Bulletin

Redefining Citizenship: The Tao of Public Service

By Judge Eric Z. Lucas1


"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
-President John F. Kennedy (1961)

The Obligations of Citizenship

In a very real sense, good citizenship appears as simple as good conduct in elementary school. As an old elementary school teacher and AAU coach, I know that good citizenship is essentially the same as being a good teammate.

Legendary UCLA basketball Coach John Wooden has conclusively defined what it means to be a successful team member. In his various writings, Coach Wooden says:

True success can be attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing that you did everything within the limits of your ability to become the very best that you are capable of becoming.... It is impossible to attain perfection, but that should be the goal.2

Coach Wooden's meaning is clear in the context of a team. But why should this team obligation be limited to sports? Why shouldn't this obligation be the essence of all our civic relationships?

If accepted, these ideas would mean that it must be the obligation of every citizen to strive for self-perfection - just as it was the obligation of every team member under Coach Wooden's tutelage. It means that this is what every citizen would be obligated to give to their fellow citizens as an essential feature of their citizenship: striving to be their best self.

A Critical Moment

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