We are a culture here in the Western world absolutely obsessed with our rights. The right to bear arms, the right to free speech, the right to equal pay, the right to toboggan wherever we please. We cannot shut up about our rights.
We are a heavily entitled, easily offended bunch of folks, it seems. Our claims to our personal interpretation of rights is absolute and will be vehemently defended at every turn. God have mercy on the soul who dares to infringe upon our God-given rights to do whatever we damn well please.
I’m not innocent in this either.
In a culture so utterly self focused, it’s no wonder this is the state we find ourselves in. I’d describe our culture as one promoting the perpetuation of teenagehood well into adult life. Teenagers need to have a healthy amount of self focus to figure out who they are and how they fit into the bigger picture of things. But it’s meant to be moderated and limited in length. Instead, we encourage everyone to maintain their inward orientation – new age spirituality tells us we are the gods, we must come first, our needs are the most important needs, our wants are there to be indulged. It’s a brilliant marketing technique that has us all endlessly seeking to buy our identities and further our happiness by indulging ourselves. Really, all we accomplish is to be so distracted by our own “self-improvement” that we don’t notice the degradation of our society and our planet and we have no time to contribute to the rest of the world in a meaningful way. Think of the gelatinous fat balls in Wall-E, sitting in their moving chairs endlessly consuming media and junk food, moving on a pre-determined track and so completely unaware of their surroundings. That’s us. Well, most of us.
There is a certain brilliance in it all. Disguising self indulgence as political and social activism. We get so riled up about our rights that we forget about connecting with the rest of humanity. Our passion for defending our rights leads to further disconnection not only with the rest of humanity, but with the humanity within ourselves. Fighting for our rights means condemning anyone who does not utilize those rights in the way we see fit.
A woman’s right to work means she better take a job outside the home, otherwise she’s weak and condoning patriarchy.
The right to bear arms means anyone should be able to buy an assault rifle, and if you try to regulate gun ownership or say that guns are dangerous, you’re anti-American and a traitor to the state.
And the right to free speech means that any person should be able to say anything, to any one, at any time, and no one else must ever react or take offense.
A right is not an entitlement. A right is a responsibility. A responsibility to not rely on a police state to regulate our moral behaviour but to engage in our own critical thinking, in respectful interaction with our fellow man. A responsibility to ensure that we do not abuse our hard-won freedoms. A responsibility to be kind and loving, even though we don’t have to be.
Freedom allows choice, and within that freedom our choices need to be respected and respectful. My ability to work should be celebrated, and your decision to stay home with your children should be respected and celebrated for what it is: your choice.
The right to bear arms means we have access to any number of weapons. All the more reason to be cautious and responsible in how and why we use them, not just as individuals but as a society. To respect the power of the weapons, and the damage they can so easily do.
The right to free speech allows me to say anything I want, and so I must think critically and carefully about what kind of words I want to put out in the world. My right to speak does not preclude others from being hurt or offended, and if I choose to say hateful things it is irresponsible of me to not expect and prepare for hateful responses. It also speaks volumes of me should I choose to exercise the great power of free speech in a way as to hurt those I share this world with.
With great power comes great responsibility. The freedoms we have are some of the greatest power. And yet we exercise that power so carelessly, so selfishly, so absentmindedly. We need to wake up to the power available to us. Then we need to turn outside of ourselves and start thinking critically about the ways in which we should use it.