First Responders Day

In our current age, we tend to be especially cognizant of our rights as citizens, but less inquisitive about our duties. Most of us enjoy the luxury of going about our lives divested of any sense of responsibility for the upkeep or security of the communities in which we live. If there is an emergency of any kind, we feel entitled to a professional response. Of course, not every individual can live in such a way. The sacrifice of some in order that others may flourish according to their own talents, ambitions, quiddities, and aspirations will be needed. Ideally, it is not every instance in which those who serve do so quite so sacrificially. We hope that their talents and temperament find an expression that secures the multitude, and that a complementarity emerges. It is further obvious that real life does not always work out so ideally.

It is not infrequently the case that those who elect to put themselves in danger find the choices more difficult than they could have imagined, that the toll on themselves and on their families proves more costly, and that their encounters are so difficult that they find themselves changed in ways they could not have imagined. In practice, heroism has its glories and its penalties. The world cannot be made tolerable for refined manners and customs if it is not first made tolerably safe. We need police, fire fighters, soldiers, and all variations thereof to preserve a world wherein ordinary people more than merely survive. On thoughtful reflection, we all know the verity of these things, but citizenship requires rekindling in order to preserve our civic consciousness.

There are two civics lessons before us. First, responsibility for ourselves lies chiefly with ourselves and rescue by way of government services is a last resort. If we continue to aspire to independence within a government that preferences liberty over security, we must sooner or later recognize that too great a dependence on government services, from which this great safety net is woven, may prove a double-edged sword. We can easily bring about what Alexis de Tocqueville called a ‘democratic despotism’, or what Richard Henry Lee called an ‘elective despotism’ by failing to recognize that a government sufficient in size, scope, and strength to protect us, is also sufficient to erode the very liberties it was intended to secure. The citizen of a republic will be jealous of his liberties, suspicious of his government, and vigilant in not exchanging his independence for dependence.

Second, that these services exist at all is contingent upon individuals choosing to provide them, and financial remuneration cannot stand in place of proper gratitude. We are fortunate to be sure, but there is a downside to the presumptions that have made this good fortune possible. An unexamined reliance on a network of people and systems who will step in at a moment’s notice to unburden us of the realities of accidents, altercations, and abominations can breed an ingratitude and complacency that weaken our independence and humanity. One might be inclined to claim that gratitude is unmerited because compensation has been provided for services rendered, but this would be too reductive. There is something human occurring in these exchanges that cannot be monetarily compensated.

This is why we thank our service members who return home from having defended our freedom from external threat, the law enforcement personnel who uphold our liberties at home, and the firemen, paramedics, and search and rescue crews who are the first to arrive when things have gone awry.

We have an opportunity on October 1st to thank our first responders for the good works they do, to encourage them in that work, and to learn a little about the jobs they do and the lives they lead to preserve a level of security without which we could not flourish. We invite you to join with us in thanking our first responders alongside our students as a practical demonstration of our commitment to good citizenship.


D. Anderson