Rights and Responsibilities

One thing that has been particularly corrupted in the present age is the concept of rights. It used to be understood, naturally, that with rights come responsibilities. This is a statement that has two meanings; the first being that one must take responsibility for the rights that he or she has. Democracy, for example is a right for which responsibility must be taken. Anything otherwise would be taking for granted something that many would, have, and do die for. Secondly the rights that we have must be used responsibly. To continue with the example of democracy, to have a voice in the leadership of communities at the local, state and federal level must be taken seriously if we care seriously about ourselves and those around us.

The corruption of rights has occurred by means of a relatively new idea whereby it is thought that wants equal rights. In liberal democracies the tradition has been that rights ensure the freedom to pursue wants. Now however, the sentiment is that rights are an entitlement to wants. This naturally poses the risk that those who hold to this kind of ideology remove most all need for talent and potential, instead claiming that their wants ought to be given rather than earned. This country would have never survived its colonial days if that was the common sentiment. The heritage of Australia is one of enterprise and hard work. It was a fiery mix of adventure and entrepreneurial spirit that led to the rapid growth from colony to commonwealth and it is feared by many that that spirit is on the decline.

In the west, there is not much left unsaid or undone regarding rights. The American experiment set the standard and other nations followed promptly along leading to a steady period in which most western nations are freer, healthier and wealthier than at an other time in history. The thing that is left undone and unsaid is the responsibility with which rights come. It is the right of an individual, for instance, to be fed clothed and warm; but it is his responsibility to feed, dress and house himself. Likewise, it is the right of an individual to a fair trial; but it is his responsibility to behave decently in the first place. There is a dangerous and false kind of reasoning in the public psyche which says, ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die’, but if by chance we do not die, the state will be there to carry us on. This is a lazy excuse to abdicate the responsibility of our lives and lean rather than lift.

Because of this new perception that wants constitute rights and responsibility is for others to take for us, there has risen up a delusion among many that certain rights have been withheld. For example, the student who still lives with his parents and takes negligible accountability for his actions may, in the course of protesting some injustice or policy, claim the his right to protest has been withheld when he is arrested for damage to public property or causing interruptions to traffic. The reality of the situation is that he has simply not used his right to protest responsibly. Or, someone may complain about democracy on the basis of the administrative ability or policy priority of a government, yet when asked for which party they voted they reply that they did not vote, in which case the person has simply not taken responsibility for their democratic right.

It is an unfortunate truth that in the freest, healthiest and wealthiest times, our rights are questioned by some who merely wish to avoid responsibility. It falls upon the shoulders of parents and educators to instil in the minds of young people a more rational and historically aware way of thinking about rights and responsibilities.

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