So recently my wife had a conversation with someone. Without looking to embarrass anyone, it sounded something like this:
- [my wife] Hi! This thing you’re letting happen is a bit annoying for these reasons, and while you may not have known those reasons now you do and we were wondering if perhaps you wouldn’t mind adjusting those things as a result?
- [other person] Well, I have a right to do X, and so I don’t really care about your reasons because X is fine so I’m not really going to change anything or even give it another thought.
Despite being a lawyer, I thought this was a bit weird. Because it looked a lot like two different conversations.
A society built on people asserting their rights is almost always inwardly focused.
On the first part, a request. Not based on rights, but on civility. A thought that, perhaps, the conduct of another was done in ignorance of its impact, and if they knew then perhaps they might might desire to change that behaviour.
On the second part, an assertion of rights. A statement that what was happening was lawful and, therefore, OK.
It’s two different conversations, of course. One was about rights, and one was about what’s right. Of course, what’s right can be a complicated discussion some times, but it’s almost never a conversation that has anything to do with the law.
And that’s where society seems to be headed in many places. Some kind of strange philosophy where somethings righteousness is determined by sole reference to its lawfulness.
But it doesn’t take long before such a system crumbles into pieces. Here’s why:
A society built on people asserting their rights is almost always inwardly focused. Each individual is concerned with themselves and what they are permitted to do without intrusion by the State or by others.
By a society built on what is righteous is one that must look outwards. Each person’s life becomes concerned not only with themselves and their family, but how what they do will benefit others around them.
I have the right to keep every cent of the money that I make, and never to give anything away.
I have the right to run power tools from 7am to 7pm every weekday, non-stop, even if my neighbour is a shift worker and needs to sleep through the day.
I have the right to stay seated on a bus even if it’s jam packed with little old ladies with walker frames all of whom are standing.
These are the acts of someone concerned with their rights, but unconcerned with what is right.