Everywhere I look in the world today I see groups and individuals defending or demanding their rights.
I see illegal immigrants, the LGBT community, drug users, pedophiles, university students, refugees and asylum seekers, women and migrant workers all speaking out to demand what they deem to be their rights as human beings. Their demands to what they perceive to be their rights vary.
Some of these demands are for the most basic of human rights and others demand for rights seemly absurd.
Illegal immigrants are demanding they no longer be called illegal and be referred to as undocumented. They are demanding the rights to citizenship in a country they entered illegally. They are demanding rights to medical care, resident tuition rates at state colleges and universities, and an immediate deferment of deportation.
LGBT communities here and overseas are fighting for rights to be protected from persecution and to live lives with the same rights to medical care, marriage, adoption, and a variety of other rights that are available to others who do not identify themselves as LGBT.
Drug users in some countries are arguing that their right to live their life as they please is being violated by laws that make drug use unlawful. Pedophiles are arguing against sex-offender registration and that their condition is not criminal but rather another orientation in the spectrum of gender identity or preference. University students are fighting for their “rights” to not be subjected to topics or language they deem offensive.
Refugees and asylum seekers are seeking their rights to life and liberty. Many groups are seeking rights to equal pay and treatment under the law.
Some of these demands for rights from these various groups seem trivial and inane, yet some are very valid. However, no matter how legitimate their demand for rights they feel entitled to, I think the focus on rights has it all backwards.
Yes, rights are important and in many cases need to be protected, but I want to talk about something even more important than rights. What I am referring to is responsibility. People today constantly, selfishly, and arrogantly press their rights rather than fulfill responsibilities.
There will never be an end to individuals and groups demanding their rights and as our laws and the laws of the world focus more and more on specific rights, the responsibility and agency of the world’s citizens are being diminished. The more that rights are the focus the less we see of self accountability and responsibility. In emphasizing rights, a person ignores his responsibilities.
Our focus needs to be on our responsibilities toward one another. Our behavior should be centered on whether or not we are fulfilling our responsibilities rather than what we perceive are our rights. Aleksandr Solzhentisyn was a writer and historian, and was also a very outspoken critic of the former Soviet Union and is totalitarianism.
He spoke out against the forced labor camps and the absolute control wielded by the government. He recognized this need for a change of focus when he said, “It is time to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”
Imagine a world where instead of excluding others because we view their circumstances or differences as deserving of lesser rights than us, we fulfilled our human obligation to do no harm to others.
Think of how much better the world would be if we each looked for ways to better fulfill our responsibilities and obligations as employers, employees, mothers, fathers, children, teachers, students, and human beings.
Instead of exerting our rights to be free to do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted we can focus on: our responsibility to teach the rising generation right from wrong, our responsibility to obey the laws of the land, our responsibility to treat employers and employees fairly, and our responsibility to be respectful of others who share this world with us.
What if in our communities we focused on how we could fulfill our responsibility to be a good neighbor and citizen instead how the neighbors are impinging on your rights to live life the way we want to.
How would foreigners and tourists feel if we focused on our responsibilities as hosts and ambassadors of Samoa to the world instead of what we feel these tourists owe us?
How would the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and immigrants be improved if instead of focusing on our rights or even theirs we instead focused on our obligations to the human family to be kind, helpful, and treat others with common decency?
Forget about your rights and concentrate on your responsibilities.