Amid the arguments of personal rights, the rights of others, and more, an important concept seems to have been lost.
With rights come responsibilities.
Without those responsibilities, “rights” become entitlements.
This isn’t about basic human rights. Things like the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, for example, are fundamental. You might even say they’re the opposite of what I’m talking about. It’s the responsibility of society to support its members with those “unalienable” human rights.
The responsibilities I’m discussing here flow from the next level of rights individuals and groups seem to assume or strive for.
If you have the right to carry a weapon, you have the responsibility to do so safely.
If you have the right to drive, you have the responsibility to follow traffic laws and be courteous on the road.
If you have the right to speak freely, you have the responsibility to do so with integrity and honestly.
Many people seem to miss the last one, arguing about their free speech rights, when there’s anything but honesty and integrity behind what they want to say.
Not all rights are codified in law. While there are certainly laws about driving and gun ownership, responsibilities often transcend the law. They’re often implicit and unspoken societal constructs.
There’s no law that says you must be a courteous driver, for example, at least up to a point, and yet a functional society requires that most drivers act cooperatively or chaos results.
The same is true of speech. While there are specific laws about things like libel and slander, the responsibilities assumed by exercising free speech transcend those. Abusing free speech, even if legal, can have dire consequences for yourself, for others, and for society. The last few years have born this out.
The fundamental difference is simple: my rights are about me, my responsibilities are about others.
When we exercise our rights, we affect others, and it’s in that impact that responsibilities come to play.
Exercise your rights irresponsibly, and you harm others.
And then there are consequences.