My nephew turns 18 today. I’ve been considering what to say to him on this momentous occasion. I’d hate for his passing into adulthood to go by without an awareness of his new freedoms and duties. I’m going to suggest a few tasks for him that I hope he will undertake. In my humble opinion, these are tasks that should be more commonly done, so I will post them here. They are not hard tasks. The whole set should take less than two hours.
- Read the Bill of Rights. This documents the things that our government shall not do to us and how our government shall treat us. Notice that at the end, it states that things not in the constitution are left to states or people to decide. The context of this document is important. The United States had just freed itself from tyranny and the wrongs were fresh in the writers’ minds. They wanted the country to avoid tyranny in the future.
- Read the Declaration of Independence. Again, context is important. The writers were staring down the most powerful empire in the world. The oppression had gotten so bad that they were willing to sign what amounted to their death warrant to free themselves.
- Read the “I Have a Dream” speech. This is how the interaction of all citizens should be. I find it inspiring that MLK Jr. had such a well defined view of how black and white (and any other color) people should interact. I am immensely sad that we’ve failed his vision in so many ways. I’ll probably write on this topic in the future.
- Go register to vote. It is your duty to inform yourself about the structure of the country and the issues and cast an intelligent ballot.
I would also suggest reading the constitution, but that will take a lot longer and the language is pretty dense and archaic. We are human, so while we’ve clarified and improved the constitution over time (amendments 14 and 15 for instance), I think we’ve probably made some mistakes as well (16th amendment for instance).