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He didn't have the right,
but he had the intent
         Cecil B Currey

Responsibility, Rights and Privileges

On this Page
Who Gives You Your Rights? | Rights | Privileges | Why Is This Important? 

When you understand the natures of power and responsibility, you discover a paradox. Responsibility is not a lessening of freedom, but rather a gaining of it.

 No, you cannot engage in whatever selfish whim enters your head. Yes, you will lose a great many short-term and immediate pleasures (but such behaviors are often dead-end actions in the long run). In the long run, you will get greater freedom. What you will discover is that people will trust you more. And with that earned trust comes freedoms that you cannot imagine. Freedoms that don't lead to dead ends or trouble, but rather to long-term pleasure and gain. You will become able to do things that are now closed to you. You will be granted privileges.

The cost of this freedom is responsibility. And if you refuse to pay this expense, you will never have the trust, power, privileges, and freedom that comes with it.

And now the bad news, if you refuse to accept responsibility, you will forever be staying in behavioral patterns that greatly increase your chances of being assaulted.

Why is this the case, well before we explain why, we need to take a side trip into what people mistakenly believe 'rights' to be.

Who Gives you "Rights?"
The simple fact is the founding fathers of the United States were -- among other things -- Humanists. Humanistic philosophy is written into the Declaration of Independence, and guides many of the concepts in the US Constitution.

However, here's something that many people don't quite understand. While many people are familiar with this statement from the preamble
       "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
        equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
        unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the
        pursuit of Happiness."

What they are not so familiar with are the following lines:
        "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among
         Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
         That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of
         these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,
         and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such
         principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall
         seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

So let's start with the fact that although founded in philosophy, the Bill of Rights was a political document. This brings up several key points:
         1) Your endowment of 'certain unalienable Rights' only holds water
              with those who believe in humanism. Those 'self-evident' truths
              aren't to anyone from a different philosophical background.
          2) The source of these unalienable rights -- while attributed to
              God -- is in fact, the government.
          3) Although it talks about the establishment of government to 'secure'
              these rights for the governed, the only thing that is specifically
              stated is the relationship between the government and the
              governed. Specifically it states that the governed give power to
              the government to ensure these 'certain' rights.
           4) What is NOT addressed is that an individual has to grant you
               these same rights.
           5) The Constitution and Bill of Rights is designed to prevent the
                government from depriving you of these 'rights' without due
                process of law.
            6) A key word in the first line is "certain."  It comes before
               'unalienable rights.' That's doesn't mean your 'rights' are
                whatever you decide them to be at the moment.

We took this little side trip into the Constitution because entirely too many people mistake ideals, privileges, social conduct, selfishness, fear, rudeness, anti-social behavior, verbal aggression and a dogma of self-appointed superiority for RIGHTS!  In other words, they have the right to behave this way.

What's more, Not only are these self-proclaimed rights supposed to be 'safe' from government incursion, but everyone else on the planet is also required to step aside and allow them to do what they want. They should not have to 'suffer' consequences of their behaviors and choices because it is their 'right' to do so.

The problem with this whole way of thinking is that isn't how 'rights' work -- especially when it comes to dealing with other people. It really doesn't work with people who have different social backgrounds than you. And some of those people will shoot you if you try to exercise your 'rights' at their expense.

Rights vs. Privileges
Just as many people don't know the difference between blame and responsibility, the difference between rights and privileges is often confused. A right is granted by society to its members in order for it to function; a privilege is granted by a group or individual as either a reward for, or conditional upon, good behavior.

Many people go on about their "rights" with no idea of what it means. For citizens of the United States, you can pretty well see all of them by taking a look at the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. If it isn't in these documents, it isn't a right.

Misunderstanding often arises from a person's interpretation of a privilege that she wants to be a right. Last time we checked, a woman's right to walk naked into a biker bar and NOT be molested was not covered in the Bill of Rights. Neither is a woman's right to party until she passes out in a frat house room and then expect not to be sexually assaulted. These are not rights ... nor are they likely to happen.

Integral to rights are the issues of responsibility and duty. For example, as an American citizen it is your responsibility to pay taxes. It also is the duty of young males, if drafted, to serve their country in the military. You are expected to follow the laws of your state and nation. These are just a few of the responsibilities and duties you exchange for your rights.

More specifically, you have the right to free speech. But you have the responsibility not to "yell fire in a crowded theater". Your right to free speech is a cornerstone of the democratic process, and that is why it is granted. You do not, however, have the right to say anything you want -- that is a misinterpretation of a right. Your freedom of speech stops when it becomes libel, slander, induces or encourages others to engage in illegal activities, or, in many states, is "fighting words." (These are things that you cannot say to another person and then expect them not to become violent.)

In short, your right to swing your arm stops where the other person's nose begins. Because that person has just as many rights as you do.

Rights can be revoked, but only through due process of law. If you violate the laws of society, you will risk your freedom being taken away -- your liberty will be curtailed. If you are convicted of a felony, your right to vote will be revoked. But all of these require the judicial system and due process. One person cannot decide to permanently revoke your rights. In the same vein, you cannot just arbitrarily decide what is and is not your right. Return to top of page

Privileges Are Not Rights. Like power, privileges can be revoked. As stated, privileges are granted either as a reward or conditionally. In more formal circumstances, due process also is applied. Recently it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court that driving an automobile was not a right, but a privilege. States can take away a person's privilege to drive if that person doesn't conform to that state's code of safe conduct.

Under less formal conditions, however, the person or group who grants you the privilege can also revoke same, and without due process.

Privileges are often granted because the person giving them has decided that your behavior is beneficial to him or her. Or because the person has taken on the duty of helping you (e.g., a parent raising and readying you for existence in this society). Now while parents are legally obligated to supply support, past a very basic standard, you quickly get into privilege territory.

Unfortunately, many young people do not understand the difference between a right and a privilege. Nor do they understand the economic nature of privilege. In any context outside your family, privileges are earned. And yet many people assume that they are, in fact, rights. Not so.

We often encounter young people who are outraged at the "unfairness" of someone getting to do something forbidden to them. For example, a good worker asks for and is granted a day off without contest. When someone else asks for the same, it is refused. On the surface this would seem, at the very least, a double standard, and, at the worst, favoritism.

What is often overlooked is the consistent high standard of work the good employee provides. This high caliber of performance makes it in the boss's best interest to accommodate that person when possible. This is how a person earns privileges. Such a person will be granted liberties that are not allowed to other, less reliable people.

On the surface this seems unfair. It is not until you recognize the "economy of service" that you will begin to understand the wider picture -- and how Western business works. People who do not recognize how it works will be unlikely ever to be promoted beyond the most menial levels in the corporate and business world. Return to top of page

Why Is This Important?
The reason for this particularly dry section is to acquaint you with the idea that many things that we take for granted are not rights, but are in fact privileges. And sometimes not even that. The term that describes much high-risk behavior is "taking liberties," if not out-and-out "illegal acts." And just because you don't think it hurts anybody doesn't mean it isn't a criminal act.

And it is when we automatically assume that we have these "rights" without the burden of responsibility -- and responsibility is defined by others and society, not just by our own personal standards -- that we get into trouble.

An example of how far this thinking can go: In the late '90s university students in Boulder, Colorado, actually rioted when police cracked down on underage drinking. Hundreds, if not thousands, of students rioted for their "right to party." Not once, but several times ... and in different years! Collectively, nearly a million dollars worth of damage was caused, students threw objects at police, stores were looted and large fires were set. Sixty police officers were injured.

It is interesting to note, however, the complete outrage these students expressed when the Boulder police commented they would have been within their right to open fire -- especially when students were throwing rocks, bricks and bottles at officers. Not only were these people rioting because they felt they were being persecuted when the police cracked down on their illegal activities (drinking underage, public intoxication, drug use, fights and DUIs), but, after committing extensive property damage and wounding police officers, students became incensed to discover that the Boulder police would have been justified in shooting them for their actions. As it was, they blamed the police for the riots anyway.

This was the behavior they felt was their "right" to engage in. What they didn't realize is that in doing so, they were putting themselves in very real danger. They were relying on the self-control of the law enforcement officers not to open fire.

If you believe it is your right to go out and party, to go out and say or do anything that you want, to treat people however you want or to engage in illegal activities -- whether from minor indulgence to reckless abandonment -- then you are putting yourself at risk.

By stepping outside the social parameters of acceptable conduct and refusing to accept the working definitions of rights and privileges, you are stepping outside of the rules. Once there, all those rules you unconsciously rely on to keep you safe are in question. They may or may not still apply. You are, in essence, hoping that you won't meet anyone who is willing to go to greater extremes and is more selfish in getting what he wants than you are.

And that is like betting the tiger you are riding won't get hungry

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