I was sitting on my favorite green padded stool in “Dave’s Corner” at my favorite watering hole. Up popped a guy on the next stool. I studied him in the mirror behind the bar.
He was tall, tanned and muscular. I guessed in his mid 60’s. His long grey hair was combed back in a sort of duck-tail. His greying beard was immaculately trimmed. His piecing dark eyes noticed me watching him. He had a serious, determined look on his face.
After he ordered a beer, he spoke to me without prompting.
“The country is going to the dogs! Too many people demanding their rights, but nobody wants to talk about their responsibilities!”
“I totally agree with you. It’s a coincidence, I was just telling the bartender here that I counted over 50 rights people demand, but only 10 responsibilities came to mind. Five rights to one responsibility!”
Just then a drunk at the bar said:
“Hey, the service in this joint stinks,” he shouted.
“I will have to cut you off and tell you to leave,” said the bartender.
“Hey, hold on a minute, I have the right to freedom of speech!”
“Sorry, buddy, you have no rights when you bother other people and don’t take responsibility for your outbursts.”
The drunk left in a huff, mumbling he would take it up with his congressman.
I smiled and said: “We tend to divide rights into two categories, our rights, and their responsibilities. We need to start talking about Human Responsibilities!”
My stool partner spoke up: “The other night when I came home from work, my wife started laying into me about how she wanted to go out, she was going stir crazy!”
I shouted back: “I have the right to some peace and quiet when I come home from a hard day at the office!”
And she shouted: “I have a right to tell you how I feel!”
“That’s what is happening in the world now, conflicting rights. The idea that all humans have basic rights that exist simply because we belong to the human race. There was a time when codified rights didn’t exist!”
Just then the drunk came back and said:
“My congressman told me, I have the right to say what I feel. Also, I have the right to expect respect from you. I have the right to be angry with you. And finally, I have the right not to be responsible for your problems! I have the right to act the way I want!”
On and on he babbled, even after they threw him out the door!
“That guy has more rights than human beings,” I laughed.
Everyone in the tavern roared with laughter.
“It’s all a matter of balancing my rights with your rights and taking responsibility to live with that balance.”
My drinking companion seemed to be a knowledgeable fellow.
“But can we change to accept out responsibilities? It’s easy to TALK about accepting responsibilities, but much harder to implement!”
“What do you think are the most important responsibilities?” I asked my bearded friend.
“Well, first, let me say that I believe you don’t have rights, which are entitlements or givens, without responsibilities, which are the obligations that go along with rights.”
“My sentiments exactly,” I chimed in.
“Now, some responsibilities people don’t usually think about are:
You are responsible for your decisions and their consequences.
You are responsible to contribute to society and adhere to the law.
And I will add, here, that criminals should have no rights or respect.
You have a responsibility to SPEAK and express yourself thoughtfully, truthfully and in a manner that builds a community, NOT to tear it down.”
“Well, that’s some real food for thought. Maybe people will change and accept these responsibilities, but change takes time and it will take more time if people don’t do it.”
My learned friend had a very serious expression on his face when he said:
“Many leaders in the world don’t accept their responsibilities. When we hand them the reigns of power, they must be held accountable for how they use that power. This is one of the failures of modern democracies.”
We ordered two more beers and started a lighter conversation.
Then the drunk stuck his head in the door and said:
“I’ve seen the light! My congressman has just told me that for every right I have, I also have a responsibility! I DON’T THINK I WILL VOTE FOR HIM AGAIN!”