A good citizen



There’s a lot about my dad that I admire.  He’s friendly, has a great laugh, he’s really smart and he is good at following the rules.  Following the rules is something that I’ve tried hard not to do for a long time.  At least, I like to act like I don’t follow rules, but in a lot of ways I totally follow rules—I’ve done that social/societal rule following that is so a part of how I operate that I’m not even aware of it so I don’t need to rebel.  Plus, I don’t want to make my life or other people’s lives too hard.  But in general, if someone says, “Hey Amanda, here’s a rule you should follow.”  I might nod, tilt my head to the side and wrinkle between my eyebrows like I’m actually considering it, but inside I’m thinking, “Hell, no” and maybe even, “you can’t make me.”


For instance, I rarely get my car inspection done before it expires.  I figure if I can delay it by a month and not get caught 12 years in a row, then I’ll have saved myself a whole year’s worth of registration fees and that’ll show the government what a rebel I am. The previous reasoning also applies to updating my drivers license on time, though I do this with voter registration, and there is no financial incentive in that one. I don’t schedule my dentist appointment until they have contacted me 5 or more times. I don’t do things on a reasonable, regular schedule—things like laundry and dishes.  I try to break the law in ways that I think I can get away with and that won’t put anyone in too great of risk. I run yellow lights and I don’t always stop at those fake stop signs in parking lots.  Now that I have a kid in school, there are a whole bevy of new rules not to follow.   Getting to school 5 minutes after the bell and filling out forms and turning them in after they are due are my forms of resistance.


But not my dad.  He is great about taking good care of paperwork, the things that he owns, his finances and his family.  He is very punctual.  He is a really good citizen, and he does it all without hemming and hawing or trying to decide if he wants to do it now or later.  He just does it, and with a good attitude. Actually, he does it without any attitude.  It’s neutral—something he just does. He pays bills before they are due.  He updates his address on all accounts before he moves.  He anticipates his expenses and taxes and car maintenance and grocery needs and he gets all that stuff done in a timely fashion.  Through his example and perhaps my slightly more mature perspective, I’m starting to see that there are some good reasons to follow the rules.  I’m beginning to understand that rules are actually out there because a whole lot of smart people before me figured out a thing or two about being a human in community. The are in place to help me in a really specific and personal way.  If I do what my doctor says, I might feel better.  If my car is up to date on maintenance, then I’ll have reliable transportation.  If I’m considerate of others’ time, like the dental office people, then that relationship might be better.


My friend, Miranda, is a really thoughtful and wonderful woman.  She is a Catholic (of the radical variety) and I’ve seen her live her values and her faith in admirable and interesting ways over the last 11 years.  We were talking one day and I was saying something that I thought was true but then realized was kind of dumb- something about how I didn’t like God or the Bible telling me what to do.  “Ten commandments?! Yeah, right.”  Miranda said, “The ten commandments aren’t there to tell you what to do, Amanda.  They are there because if you follow them, they make your life and relationships easier and better.”  Wow.  I wanted to eat my words and hug that friend of mine again for opening my heart to some truth.  For all the church and time I spent thinking about God and religion in my earlier years, I never really thought about it that way.  The ten commandments seemed like another ten things I was going to waste energy not doing, convinced that they were there to prevent me from living my most interestinglife.


Yoga also has Ten guidelines for making life and relationships easier and better: the yamas and niyamas. If followed, they help keep my conscience clear, my mind focused and my body healthy and happy.  They aren’t there to put a damper on my fun, but to help bring a deeper and more satisfying experience to my existence.  They are really useful. The yamas deal with our relationship to other people and things and in a subtle way, our relationship to ourselves.  They include non-harming, truthfulness, not taking things that don’t belong to us, forming right relationships, and not taking advantage of people or situations.  The Niyamas address our relationship to ourselves: cleanliness, contentment, keeping the body fit, self-inquiry, and doing our best but understanding that we aren’t in complete control of our lives. I’ve experienced the truth and benefit of these yamas and niyamas in many ways.


A beautiful result of following some rules of right living, when we do our best to live our yamas and niyamas, then our mind isn’t cluttered with all the stealing and the chores, the guilty conscience or the grasping, or the aches and pains in the body.  We have more time, patience, quiet and space to sit with our breath and with ourselves in meditation.  We have a mind that is directable and able to focus.  This opens us up to the possibility to greater clarity and deeper meaning in our lives.


I’m getting softer and less rebellious… less resistant to the things that offer me ease.  Being a good citizen can be annoying.  Nobody likes visiting the DMV in the middle of the week.  But, much of the tasks involved in good citizenship and good yogi-hood really are about keeping life running smoothly so that there is time to think and sit and just be with myself or my family or in my relationships that I think are important.  There is more meaningful time when I’m not so busy resisting everything and this opens up the possibility to quiet down and feel greater clarity.  I’m starting to see that after many years of adulthood, I’m becoming more comfortable with the space and time that is left unfilled now that I’m not trying so hard to work against some imaginary domineering foe.  I’m seeing that a little planning, agreeability and foresight really can help to make life better and I’m feeling the urge to be a good, law-abiding citizen. Thanks, Dad.  Thanks, Miranda.  Thanks, yoga. I love you guys.



5 thoughts on “A good citizen

  1. Wow. Well-put. I’m a resister too. I’ll put off doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, the DMV, and anything else annoying and then have to squeeze it all into one horrendous week when it can’t be put off any longer. Your friend Miranda is a wise one. You always put things in ways that resonate with me. Thank you for that. However, I think getting away with breaking minor laws is okay. If I didn’t vote for it, why follow it?

    1. I wonder how much mental energy I’d save by picking up a full laundry basket– automoton style, and taking it to the washer. No thinking, no considering, no whining in my head. I’m working on the laundry thing, but I’m still going to roll through parking lot stop signs.

  2. Well-written, Amanda. And on point. Why create so much unnecessary stress by resisting that which is easy and easier on yourself and others? Like common courtesy, these rules / guidelines / laws are the grease that smooth our interactions / relationships with each other and with our self.

    Please keep writing. I always learn something. 🙂

    1. Lynn, I love your question. Why do I/we cause unnecessary stress by resisting inevitable and important stuff? I’m really curious about this, actually. I know I do it. I know I’d like to stop, but why did I start doing it ever? thoughts?

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