Bing Blog

Good census makes good neighbors

Census Worker

When I was a kid, there was a concept that was taught to us in school. It was called Citizenship. It was part of an ideal of cordiality and common interest that held us together as a nation. Of course, much of it was bushwah. The world back then was just as full of injustice, prejudice, and rotten losers who didn't care about anyone but themselves as it is today. Perhaps we were just more cordial about it.

There were several aspects to citizenship that were drummed into us. First, it carried with it a host of benefits. You were an American. Americans were part of a great, ongoing experiment that had something to do with personal freedom, opportunity for all, hot dogs and baseball, education as a common right, and something about lifting the lamp beside the golden door to all the tired and poor. No matter how we might disagree on a host of things, we were all citizens, and that, along with television, bound us together.

Citizenship, it was quickly pointed out, came with certain responsibilities. You had to vote, for instance, when the Mayor, Governor, or Uncle Sam told you it was time to do so.  Those who didn't vote were not being good citizens. This being America, we weren't going to punish them for not voting. But we didn't appreciate them, either. As a citizen, you also were supposed to bring your library books back on time, obey rules about crossing the street and spitting in public places, not run people over on your bike, even if they were crossing in the middle of the block, and eat a good breakfast every day.

These weren't onerous obligations. They were just part of good Citizenship. And exercising them, it turned out, gave one a certain good feeling that was unlike any other. It was a little like collecting money for Unicef at Halloween, particularly if you actually gave the money you got for that exercise to the teacher on November 1. But it was a quieter feeling than that. I still get it when I vote, even though sometimes I feel like I'm choosing between a block of stinky cheese and an old sock whose mate was long ago lost in the laundry.

This brings us to the Census form that came in the mail last week. It had been sitting on my kitchen table for a while and this morning I filled it out. It made me feel quite good in a way that transcends the kind of glow I get when the stock goes up a few points, or somebody tells me I look thinner. For a few minutes, as I checked off the boxes that told my Government a little bit about myself, I felt like I was part of the big collective American people in a way I haven't for some time. For just a few minutes, I forgot about Wall Street and health care and unemployment and tea parties and people who think that those who work for social justice are Nazis, for God's sake, or how the President is doing in the polls or whether Twitter is the new Facebook or vice versa.  I felt like I was doing something nice with the rest of my neighbors.

I'm aware that not everybody sees it this way. A few of my friends looked at me like I was slightly demented when I started talking about this stuff. And last year some idiots actually killed a census worker in what I guess they thought was some kind of twisted, anti-Government patriotism of some kind. Or maybe he just stumbled on their still.

But me, I liked filling out my census form.  Actually, it made me wonder what other good citizenship things are going on out there for me to do. Once you get started, the possibilities seem kind of endless. I'll bet you could come up with a few. Although this might not be the proper venue for that discussion, being concerned with business and free enterprise and all.

25 Comments Add Comment

Hey Bing,

Great blog--one point to mention though--I think the census worker death you reference was actually ruled a suicide and attempted insurance fraud.

Yes, BTW, I did fill out my census form.

Really, Kevin? Show me a link...

I've worked on two Census operations, over the years. In different decades.

It stunned me, then & now, how many people believed that it was a brand-new Government "spying plot". How many did not believe that it was in the Constitution. How many did not believe that failing to fill it out, fully & accurately, cheated their communities out of Federal funds, & Congressional representation.

One crazy lady (probably had a dozen cats) believed that housing questions (intended to help with the Homelessness situation in the 80s) meant that if she filled out the form, the government would force her to have Homeless people & foreigners live with her. {Insert headslap here.} Craziness & paranoia are more common than cold germs.

"My Country
t'is of thee,
Wholesale in-sanity!
Of thee I sing!"

Don't you think being rational and thoughtful counts?

With all the wackos and frauds running loose we need at least a few such providing ballast for the tipsy Ship of State.

Does it scare you to think that your usually irreverent and occasionally snarky self might be held up as a model citizen?

Don't. The best defense of civilization and democracy is raucous, derisive laughter at those caught trying to pull a fast one!

Actually, Good Citizenship should have a lot to do with business and free enterprise. The new selfish/rapacious free enterprise we've seen of late is more a result of the system being twisted to the advantage of those with influence. People who practice Good Citizenship don't run $60B Ponzi schemes or flush Enron or Lehman down the toilet or give AAA ratings to CDO's that are really garbage.

A Citizen participates in the civil society. That is what gives you a warm glow when you fill out your census form or vote. Merriam-Webster includes "adequate in courtesy and politeness" in its definition of Civilized (civil society). I'm pretty sure this doesn't include hurling epithets and bricks at those with whom we disagree.

Free enterprise doesn't mean freedom to do whatever you please, any more than free speech gives you the right to yell "Fire" in a crowded theater. We could use a lot more civility (and Good Citizenship) in both business and society.

Republican Michele Bachmann told us not to fill out our census forms. Evidently, she's worried that the administration will use the info for some evil purpose. Of course, that made me want to fill mine out even more. And you're right, Bing, I did get a warm feeling after doing so.

Thanks, Ray. I guess I preferred it when he was murdered.

I filled it out, but found some of the questions a little dicey:

Perhaps the warmest fuzzy I get is voting. After that, giving blood. It's a renewable resource in constant demand that helps others, and the number of people eligible to give seems to keep shrinking as they pile on more restrictions. They let me watch TV while I pump it out, and they give me juice and cookies after. Then they spoil it all by telling me that I should avoid alcohol for a while.

Bing, re the murder or suicide of Bill Sparkman, census worker, see

I’m right with you. I feel the overwhelming warmth of citizenship inter-harmony as sit in office staff meetings, file my taxes, change my child’s diapers, wait in traffic, and a whole host of other mind altering experiences. Just the thought of them all makes me want to take a quick trip to the dentist. I know he feels the same warmth as he probes around in my mouth. I didn’t realize till now just how contagious this stuff can be.

I outsourced the completion of my census form.

So did his dependents, Bing. So did his dependents.

Bing....somehow America has become overtly mean and, in fact, has become proud of its meanness.... There have always been mean people, but I believe that the community's general spirit of higher purpose often kept such base feelings at bay.

We've celebrated the benefits of selfishness to the extent that people who care about other peoples' well-being are considered hopelessly naive. I too am amazed at the suspicion the general public associates with such logical, simple, essential, and legitimate governmental activities as the census. We've come to believe that continual distrust is the watchword of the day (and our business and political community has surely helped us in this sad estimate).

While Americans have a traditional distrust of authority (and I think overall that's a good moderation), when you combine that tendency with lazy thinking, and an inability (or unwillingness) to examine important societal issues beyond the facile and convenient lack of depth offered by the likes of talk radio and Fox news, you've got fertile ground for the most primitive and selfish human characteristics to flower.

What you experienced, when you filled out the census form, was a feeling of community. It is the same good feeling one gets when: find a wallet, and go to the trouble of contacting the owner, and returning it to the rightful owner with all the cash and credit cards intact, instead of just throwing it in a mail box. stop your vehicle at a crosswalk and let a pedestrian safely cross the street (not applicable in NYC). defuse a potentially angry verbal exchange with a coworker by a calm and disarming response rather than escalating the conflict (even though throttling the offending party is the preferred visceral reaction....particularly if you're the boss). God knows I've gone the wrong way on this one many times....and it's never been the best choice.

In short, these good feelings are the result of living 'the golden rule' (or whatever a hundred or more christian and non-christian sects define as one of the key tenets of human decency). Normally, you'd expect such behavior from those living extremely 'close to the bone', but it's now common enough among those living quite 'high on the hog'.

You forgot to mention "the City on the Hill."

When I was a kid, an old man told me what to do when the census form came.

"Fill that thing out and send it right back. That way, the census people won't come snooping around your place. They won't even know you have a still."

When you do the right thing, there are some side benefits.

The American institution that placed the resolution in the constitution and whose concensus to conduct a ten year census challenges the American population's senses and appears to be downright senseless!

If you want to feel really good about Citizenship, then join a municipal board. There are almost always openings and a quick conversation with a City Councilor or Select Board member will likely get you set up before the conversation is over.

Bob of Michigan...without an occassional census how would proper allocation of an area's representation in various legislative branches occur? How would allocation of federal and state resources(from our tax dollars)even begin to be done in an equitable fashion? These are the fundamental reasons the founders established a census requirement, and they remain as necessary as ever.

Historicaly the census has been run by the Commerce Dept. For the first time it is being run by the White House. Why?

Elwyn...turn off your talk's still being run by the Department of Commerce, Census Bureau.....and no, they're not trying to take your guns away, or penetrate your tinfoil hat with their liberal thought control rays.

Elwyn, somebody has been pulling some spin on you. The census has historically been run by BOTH the Commerce Department and the White House. That's because the Commerce Department is part of the executive branch of government, and the executive branch of government has its headquarters in the White House.

Shades of "my opponent is a homo sapien!" Nothing quite like stating the simple truth and trying to make it sound evil. Only the uninformed fall for it.

When I was a little kid, my parents told me that people actually came to there houses and they talked to them while they interviewed them and filled it out. For my mother, it was a rush and very interesting. For my father, it was a bore and a waste of time. But both did find it helpful.

As for nowadays, we're filling them out MOSTLY by the paper that's being sent to us and I had too, had a lot of fun filling them out. Granting, most people think they're a hassle but they're important to get records of our pasts and even moreso when we're all dead and gone.

But damn, I'm betting someday that the census forms will be JUST filled out on computers and that will be tragic and terrible. Too many things are being used with the computers, there will be a day when us and our kids don't know how to handwrite anymore haha.

Wow, part nostalgia, humbleness and a rant in one.

It makes me feel good not to fill it out i have to pay for someone else's children's education threw a school levy. this way i feel i get some of my money back by denying them some.