As we round the one-year anniversary of the global pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, there is no shortage of news programs recording individual markers of the year.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

One thing I wish to hear more about is how we can use what we’ve learned to shape a better collective future.  Part of that, for me, has been how we can talk about the duty we owe to one another as fellow Americans, and one thing I’ve been thinking about related to that is compulsory service.

Before you fire up the emails, just stick with me for a minute.

Chances are, with compulsory service your mind went straight to the military – probably straight to the Israeli system since that is the one most frequently mentioned. This is not exactly what I mean.

Granted, the military is by far the most widely used form of national service, with 28 countries practicing it. But that’s just the beginning. All told, there are about 75 countries (including my current country-crush of Denmark) that require some form of service to the nation.

France, for example, requires its citizens to commit to a month of learning service skills such as first aid and applying these skills in real-world settings, according to the National Commission on Service at After completing their month of service they will be encouraged to volunteer for three to 12 months. I love it.


The mind reels at the possibilities. Depending on the individual, national service could include serving in schools, animal shelters or hospitals. It could be in veterans centers, on trails or the parks department, anything that serves a common good. Many of our high schools already require community service to graduate and this is just on a grander scale.

Service to the nation could be an intensive, immersive experience, such as devoting a year to fighting fires or working to repair damaged infrastructure. Those situations, however, would require government subsidization for housing, food and living expenses, similar to the nations that require military service. It strikes me that it would be far more practical to follow France’s example and simply require sporadic volunteer hours worked around an individual’s employment.

Which is where we hit the stumbling block.

We are a nation built on the idea of rugged individualism, and the concept of required volunteerism does not sit easily with us. In fact, it is most commonly used as punishment. Cleaning the side of a highway is not seen as pitching in, and being required to give your time is not part of our way of thinking. I understand this. It actually even makes me uncomfortable, and I am the one proposing it.

And yet.

Currently, there is such a dearth of communal responsibility being demonstrated in our nation. It was a monumental struggle to convince a large percentage of us that potentially saving the lives of others during a pandemic was worth sacrificing their – no, I am not going to use the word freedoms, that is too grandiose a term  – conveniences. Yes, conveniences. That ought to have been a no-brainer, yet some still refuse.

We have taken individualism to an unhealthy level.

I think it would be fascinating to see how giving back through service to the greater good would change the individual doing the work and our national understanding of who we are and what debt we owe each other as fellow residents of this place we call home.

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