For those of you reading this column for the first time, or for those who simply missed last week, my apologies. Like that awkward moment at a party, you’re about to join a conversation already underway: that of the deeply ingrained ideas of Rights and Responsibilities, with a heavy emphasis on the first half.

This is part two, where we explore the second element; our responsibilities. What are they? What do we owe to each other as part of being in a community? And, perhaps most importantly, what do we do about it?

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

Religion has a lot to say on the topic. In fact, that is a place where you will find these ideas written down. Sometimes in stone. Every major world religion has a set of ethics and moral standards, to which adherents to the faith are expected to abide, and there are a lot of similarities.

There’s a heavy emphasis on caring, placing the needs of others before your own, being responsible for your neighbor’s welfare, not taking more than your fair share, valuing humans more than money, protecting the vulnerable, and giving food and shelter to anyone who asks – even if you don’t feel like it or have a lot of extra on hand.

Frankly I quite like these.

The problem, of course, is that religion and government don’t mix. Or shouldn’t. So these ideas are left to the faiths to instruct and the individual to practice.


Government has a few things to say on responsibility as well, but it is mostly about paying taxes on time. Boring and not what I’m getting at here.

I thought about what other places are doing, and the first thing that pinged in my mind is Israel, where everyone over the age of 18 must devote 24-36 months serving in the nation’s military. According to The Soldier’s Project, there are 49 countries that require some sort of military service from every citizen, including Norway. OK, I don’t know why Norway surprises me, but it does.

The reasons the various countries do this tend to focus less on actual need for military action, and more on cohesion as a nation.

It made me wonder, what if we had mandatory service, but with options that include not only the military but the park service, postal service, animal shelters, food banks and more, with opportunities for people of all ages and physical limitations to participate fully?

What if we had the option to spread the time? So instead of the entire first two years of adulthood, what if it was one weekend a month for decades? Or every Wednesday night? Maybe it could be an initial chunk of time, say the first summer after high school graduation, and then a set of weeks here and there? Or you get called back, like jury duty, on a rotating schedule? It would allow a person to pursue their career and ambitions – while still serving the greater good.

If service to the country was universally expected (no wealthy person “buyout” option), and we all had to work together, it might be the single greatest experiment in community conversation and class barrier break down this nation has ever seen.

Imagine the possibilities.

I suspect there are other ideas out there on how we can best serve our nation and care for our neighbors, and I look forward to hearing them. I suspect there are also some pretty strong objections, but really, we are at a crisis point, and if we don’t figure out, quickly, how to take care of one another a lot better than we are, the future looks bleak.

For myself, I will be reflecting on my own obligations, and actions, and picking up where I am able.

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