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Two Kinds of Citizens – Oliver DeMille

rockwellfourfreedomsspeechLast summer I wrote an article venting my disappointment that the majority of Americans said they felt fine about being spied on by their government.

They’ve had over six months to think it over, and they’ve changed their mind. Now over 70 percent of Americans dislike government spying on its people and believe it should stop the practice.

It took a lot of media coverage, some intense debate, and a few who courageously put themselves in harm’s way to “wake up” the American citizenry. But now we’re overwhelmingly against the spying.

Even so, over 73 percent think it will continue — regardless of what politicians say about it or promise to change.

During this debate, I’ve been thinking a lot about a real solution for overextended government, and as sad as it is, history indicates that only major crisis brings real change.

Still, how we think about important issues before such crises occur has a direct influence once big difficulties arise.

We know from history that new crises will come. But are we prepared to demand real change in how the government operates when the opportunity presents itself?

Maybe. Maybe not. The way most Americans from all political views caved in when a few brave congressmen led a government shutdown in the fall of 2013 indicates that most people still want to change things — but only as long as the changes are painless and easy.

A dose of realism is overdue. Every parent should go back and re-watch the classic movie A Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean. It is a gem, because it shows that some things are worth fighting for.

The generation that first watched this movie understood it: most of them had fought in World War II or lost family members in this fight against Hitler and his allies. They knew that sometimes you should fight, not just walk away and avoid fighting at all costs.

Today the majority holds a different view. Zero Tolerance means we don’t tolerate modern bullies (a good thing!) nor will we tolerate modern heroes who take a stand for things that really matter (ridiculous!). We’re so afraid of risk, we teach our kids to never take a stand.

For example, one day at church I noticed a number of older men walking up to a teenage boy and shaking his hand or patting him on the back. I wondered what he had done.

I asked his mother, and she told me an all-too-familiar story: he had witnessed a boy assault a girl in the hallway at a local high school, touching her mockingly where no boy should touch a girl, and the young man immediately stepped between the two and shoved the aggressor.

When the school investigated, it found that: No, the boy had not disliked the toucher. No, he didn’t have a close relationship with the girl. No, he wasn’t a troublemaker. He had never been in trouble before. He had no reason to hit the other boy or stand up for the girl, except one—he saw a boy inappropriately grab a girl, and his natural reaction was to stand up for what is right.

The school stupidly expelled both boys. Both were “bad, the school said. “We can’t allow any violence.”

The boy directly asked the principal what he is supposed to do if he sees another boy reach out and grab a girl. “Should I just smile and keep walking?” he asked. “Yes,” was the official answer.

All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. All that it takes to raise such boys is to consistently treat them like offenders when they stand up for the right.

Later that day I found the boy in the church hall and shook his hand. I told my son the story and suggested that this boy would be a great role model. My son nodded. I’m sure the school’s principal would not have approved. Or maybe he would, but was tied down by rules and policies.

Would a young Thomas Jefferson or a teen Abraham Lincoln have stood by and watched a young woman assaulted in the school hall? Too many modern American citizens seem to say, “Yes. I’m busy living my life. The government will do what the government will do. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

The rising generation has been taught: “If you do take a stand, you’ll get in trouble. Just let it go. It’s somebody else’s problem.”

At some point, our nation will decide whether to stop spying on its own people or to keep at it forever. When this decision-point comes, every little bit of positive influence you and I can make in the months and years ahead will make a difference.

You may feel like your words too often fall of deaf ears, but they don’t. Every word in support of freedom matters.

Of course we should always be civil and respectful in such discussions. Extremism isn’t as powerful as simple decency and wisdom. And, yes, we should stand for what is right.

There are two kinds of citizens: those who just let the world happen, and those who get involved in making a positive difference. Which kind are you?


odemille Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.


  1. marsha wiggins says

    Mr. DeMille-Thank you for sharing your insightful and thought-provoking ideas. I admire you, your principles and the work you are doing for freedom. And Thank You for the reminder that, ”You may feel like your words too often fall upon deaf ears, but they don’t.” It is frustrating to see the blank stares and to listen to conversations quickly turn to another subject. Your article renews my spirit and I wil stay strong in my convictions. Thank You and God bless you.

  2. Oliver, this is an essential reminder. I’ve shared it on twitter & Facebook. I’ll do LinkedIN on my own since I don’t see a button on your site for it.

    A book came to mind as I read this: The Dog Poop Initiative, by Kirk Weisler. It might be worth sharing.


  3. Nick Quinn says

    The story about the young man who stood up against someone he didn’t dislike for someone he didn’t really know is short and powerful. Standing up to someone you disliked for someone you knew really well is much easier. When you see injustice or improper behavior that affects someone close to you its easy to see the connection to your life and take action, but to realize that we are all connected, injustice is injustice, and take action with no personal benefit to yourself…that is something that should be commended. The principle at the school could learn from that young man a thing or two about courage, while he sits behind his desk like a coward and expels him. If he is constrained by a bad system he should make a statement to that system and quit, if thats what it takes.

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