Rights vs. Responsibilities

Published: March 26, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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The level to which anger-driven passion has risen in recent days has become yet another example of individuals who feel that their right to challenge any issue allows them to act in ways that are appallingly irresponsible.

From Representative Neugebauer shouting “baby killer” during a House session to the bricks thrown through the windows of political headquarters, the anger demonstrated by many has escalated from heated rhetoric to threats of violence.

Sadly, some people are so focused on rights that they forget about the corresponding responsibilities.  The right to free speech carries with it the responsibility to speak in a civil manner. The right to march in protest carries with it the responsibility to do so in a peaceful and respectful way.

The ethical value of responsibility, ethicist Michael Josephson affirms, “is about our ability to respond to circumstances and to choose the attitudes, actions, and reactions that shape our lives.”

Too many people have chosen to not only ignore common sense but common decency.

How can we claim to be “the land of the free” when individuals declare that their right to free speech includes calling a black congressman n****r?  Where is the exercise of responsibility for “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” when people curse and spit on another?

“Responsible people,” Josephson says, “not only depend on themselves but show others that they can be depended on. This breeds trust, and trust is a key that opens many doors.”

We need to demonstrate that kind of responsibility not only to each other, but more importantly, for the next generation of citizens.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Too many have fought and died for these principles and many more are fighting at this moment.

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl recommended that “the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast should be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” His idea was that “Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”

It’s time for all of us to act responsibly and be the example we wish for our kids.


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