(Please pardon me if I move away from my usual neighborhood and become somewhat political and perhaps a bit strident for a moment or two.)

Yesterday, I read a letter to the editor from a frustrated teenager. She was filing her income taxes for the first time and was aghast that “the government” was “stealing” her money. I’m reasonably certain that she’s not among my three regular readers, but in the chance she happens upon my blog, I’d like to respond.

Young lady, I’m sorry that you feel that something called “the government” has taken money from you. Would you please do me a favor? Step away from the computer, go into the bathroom, and look into the mirror. What you’ll see is “the government.” Yes, it’s you. Your government is not some outside entity or mythical beast that was created to darken your day.

When you drove home from work today, you were able to do so because of “the government.” You had safe roads to travel upon because they were constructed by “the government,” and shared them safely with other drivers whose conduct was guided by rules developed by “the government” and monitored by “the government.” You sleep soundly in your bed because of any number of actions taken by “the government” – from the members of our armed forces who have defended our homeland from outside threats, to the law enforcement officers who keep people who would otherwise do you harm at bay, to the firefighters who work even harder to prevent fires than they do to fight them, to the code inspectors who make sure your roof won’t collapse upon you in the middle of the night, to thousands of others who affect your daily life in ways you simply cannot imagine.

In fact, young lady, you probably would not have been able to compose your angry missive without “the government,” because odds are good that you learned to write so well in “government” classrooms, taught by “government” employees, most of whom learned their skills in “government” institutions. Nor would your missive have been seen by such a wide audience were it not for the “government” that stunned the world by giving its citizens a series of freedoms and emphasizing their importance by listing them first in a “government” document. By the way, the same “government” protects you from others who would steal and republish your words as their own, too.

And what does this entity called “government” ask from you in return? It asks that you share some of what you earn to fund everything it does, and if you’re over 18, it asks that you vote. Nearly everyone does the former; far too few can be bothered to take a few moments every couple of years for the latter. Because the “government” asks you to do these things – and I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you do – you are actually part of the “government” you so eagerly deride. When you say the “government” should take care of something, you’re asking yourself to do it.

That “government” document I mentioned earlier also gives you something called the right to redress your grievances. Yes, it may be silly, old-fashioned language (that’s the way they talked back in 1791), but what it means is that if you disagree with what your “government” does, you have a right to protest, and to tell the “government” representatives that you’ve elected what you think without the kind of repercussions that happen to people in many other countries. Of course, you have to get off your lazy gluteal muscles to do that, because as evil and all-powerful as you may suspect your “government” to be, it lacks the ability to read your mind.

Please don’t feel like I’m picking on you or making fun. Sadly, you’ll probably become like so many other adults who don’t grasp what being a citizen really means, and who hurl anger at that contraption called “government” without ever lifting a finger to do something about it. And if you feel powerless, you should know that people just like you around the world are literally dying to win just a fraction of the power you already take for granted. So do us all a favor: instead of whining about that nasty “government,” step up and accept your responsibility as a citizen. Thank you.