This I Believe

Mary - Reading, Pennsylvania
Entered on March 8, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
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Clamor or Clarity?

I believe that individual rights are over emphasized in this country. I believe that people have become too demanding. I know that sounds like blasphemy in the United States, but hear me out.

Most people believe in a multiplicity of rights: the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assemble, for example. In my mind, however, there is really only one right, and the items on the aforementioned list are just particular expressions of that one right.

Why do I say this? Think about it. Most people believe that rights are either God-given or that they somehow inhere within the individual. They also believe that rights are universal. They don’t believe that governments “give” them rights. That being said, it leads to the problem of particular rights. Take the right to bear arms, for example. Does someone born before guns were invented have the right to bear arms? I don’t think so. I have often heard people, in anger, make ridiculous assertions such as, “I have the right to color my hair green and sit atop a flagpole if I want!” You do? Why? Why would anyone be born with such an absurd right?

Thomas Jefferson expressed it best in The Declaration of Independence when he said that every individual has the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” While there are three elements to his statement, he’s really just talking about one right. No one asks to be born. Yet, here you are. Therefore, you have the right to try to live to the best of your abilities within the context of the situations in which you find yourself, recognizing that everyone you meet is trying to do the same.

Here’s a scenario. Imagine that you are in a lifeboat with another person. There is one canteen of water between the two of you. Each one of you has the right to drink that water. Right? Wrong! Each one of you has the right to try to survive the situation. Water means survival, so what’s the difference you might ask. The difference is that the first assertion calls for competition. Each person demanding his or her right to drink water will lead to a tug of war on that canteen. The latter assertion demands cooperation because its lack of particulars doesn’t tie it to a tussle.

So what? Why am I splitting hairs? I’m doing so because I believe that a shift in the perception of how we view rights is of paramount importance in a world growing smaller and more violent everyday. I believe that in adopting this perception, all the clamoring for the particular will give way to the clarity of a shared vision of human rights.