Rights and Responsibilities

In my childhood we were taught more about responsibilities than rights. We soon realized, as life went on, that there were rights too. By the time we went to University most of us realized that rights were recognized unevenly throughout the world and within our own nation. This topic was studied in courses that many of us completed. I am very glad that many people have worked hard and some of the imbalance regarding rights has been, in part, redressed. There is still a long way to go.

Some of my contemporaries complain that GenY youth present as selfish and uncaring, but no generation of people is intrinsically any different from those before it. However the focus we have had on individual rights, through several generations, appears to have masked and sometimes overshadowed the importance of the responsibilities that ensue or indeed sometimes hindered the recognition of when others have rights which may be in conflict with ours.

A typical example was to be found this morning on that great facebook site “Destroy The Joint” where yet another feminist indignantly complained that her unquestioned right to dress and comport herself as she wishes also meant she should be immune from any criticism. But others surely have a right to opinions of their own? Responsibility here, on both sides, consists of a civil exchange of opinions with the possibility of growth in one, or hopefully both, of the minds of those exchanging such opinions.

But one of the worst current examples to be seen is in the behaviours that have taken place in institutions where young adults live together, and this time it is at St John’s College.

The young and inexperienced are likely to be foolish. Freed for the first time from strict parental or school supervision they may be very be silly. (I well remember my own College days at Sydney University in the late 50s and early 60s.) The young have the right for their youth and inexperience to be taken somewhat into consideration in assessing their motivations for certain behaviours. But they still must take responsibility for their own actions. There is little excuse for violent behaviours or initiation ceremonies that degrade others and so strip others of their rights. Every student has as equal a right as any other to peacefully co-exist in their college.

That parents and other adults have intervened on the behalf of some students to avoid these young people having to take responsibility for their actions is even worse. It shows both that those parents do not know the meaning of responsibility any more than do their children and implies that they think their own children’s rights are greater than the rights of others!

And now we’re “right” back to where we started. It was the aim for equality of rights for all that focused us so much on the issue of rights in the first place but this appears now to have taken too much emphasis off responsibilities!


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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2 Responses to Rights and Responsibilities

  1. Anne – that was a very good piece with a balanced view. Balance it all it’s about isn’t it? Rights and responsibilities. You’re right to give some leeway, because it’s only fair. Every year I saw the pranks of the halls of residence here at our university, and unless they’ve suddenly got more sinister [possible], they were pretty harmless.

    Your point about parents “protecting” the rights of their own errant children – most legal adults – is worth underlining. At primary school, they are rightly taught about certain rights that are due to them. Every time one is taught, so should a reasonable responsibility on their behalf, like setting the table – if people sit down to eat together any more, i.e! Or making their bed, or some effort to cooperate with siblings, etc.

    Do I sound like I’m 190 years old? Possibly. But you know what? It’s my right! I know about responsibility, as you do.

    Denis Wright

  2. PS Just to be absolutely clear, I was not putting the behaviour of the St John’s College students in the category of harmless. Obviously, they were not. Life-threatening, physically and mentally damaging exhibitions of power are criminal or near-criminal acts of irresponsibility.

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