What is Civic Life?

When we participate in civic life, we do so not simply as private individuals or public figures, but as members of communities who must work together to make their shared future possible and productive. Civic life is, in other words, the area of our lives that we as citizens get to shape with other people (often strangers) through our actions and words.

For most people, civic life means voting. And, to be sure, voting is an important part of our lives as citizens. But a healthy participatory society needs much more than eager voters. It needs engaged citizens who are active producers of the kinds of communities they want to live in.

The problem is that many people do not know how to be civically engaged in a society where they are busy with work and personal obligations. In between full-time jobs, raising families, or any of the other day-to-day activities we do, there is not a lot of time to volunteer with a local organization or to become a leader in a political group in our community.

But civic life is much more than volunteering or participating in social or political groups. It also includes being informed about issues, believing in the best intentions of others, and engaging with fellow citizens in respectful and positive ways.

This is hard in a world where news coverage increasingly consists of social media memes and politically loaded commentary and where we are incentivized to see other people as misguided opponents to either be won over to our views or to be excluded. Not surprisingly, many people express a weary dissatisfaction with the state of American democracy.

The Civic Life Lab is interested in figuring out how we can find accessible ways to become engaged producers of civic life and to see our fellow citizens, most especially those we disagree with, as partners in the process of building resilient communities.