Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Along With Rights Come Responsibilities

Our society really needs to focus more on responsibilities than on rights.

Throughout history, we have been reminded that with rights come corresponding responsibilities. Tragically, it appears as though a great many of the problems facing us today stem from the failure or complete refusal to exercise our rights in a responsible manner.

Just this morning, I read an article that a “2-year-old boy was shot by his 4-year-old cousin, who was apparently playing with the gun before it discharged.”

According to a Washington Post article, as of Oct. 20th of this year, toddlers had shot at least 50 people.

Since toddlers are children between 1-3 years of age, the Washington Post’s statistics won’t change as a result of the above-referenced shooting.

While it’s always risky making assumptions because they’re typically incorrect, I’m willing to take that risk in this instance.

How do toddlers and young children have access to loaded guns and rifles if their parents or caregivers were exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in a responsible manner?

Now, I realize that some people might say, as a grandmother did in 2013 after her 5-year-old grandson accidentally shot and killed his 2-year-old sister with the .22-caliber Crickett rifle he got for his birthday, that “It was God’s will. It was her time to go, I guess.”

With all due respect, in my book, such statements and their underlying beliefs result when the right to “free exercise of religion” is embraced in an irresponsible manner.

Was it God’s will that the 5-year-old received the Crickett rifle for his birthday? Was it God’s will that the children’s “mother stepped outside of her home just for a few minutes” and left the loaded Crickett rifle accessible to the children? Does the “free exercise of religion” in such a manner shift responsibility away from parents and guardians by essentially blaming God? How do we learn from mistakes we don’t admit having made?

Ask yourselves whether gun control would even be an issue if people acted more responsibly?

The vast majority of Americans favor background checks for gun shows and private sales and a significant majority favor laws to prevent mentally ill from buying guns.

Aren’t such gun control laws merely an effort to keep guns out of the hands of those most likely to exercise their right to bear arms irresponsibly? If those selling guns through gun shows and private sales acted more responsibly, would there even be a need for such gun control?

On June 15th, I published an article titled Those Holding ‘Anti-Gay’ Sentiments Need To Stop Making Things Worse By Expressing Outrage Over The Florida Massacre.

In that article, I stated the following:

“People who operate from the false premise that being LGBT is behavioral make it appear as though the LGBT community is being unreasonable in its demands for equal rights. After all, according to their beliefs, they are heterosexual people when you remove the behavioral aspect and therefore they needn’t be entitled to any special rights. Such reasoning, in turn, justifies statements such as ‘anti-gay rhetoric - definition: disagreeing with gays about anything.’

This is a form of blaming the victim, although not appearing so on its face. The ‘anti-gay’ and ‘anti-LGBT’ rhetoric has resulted in a major increase in violence and abuse against members of the LGBT community.

People who hold ‘anti-gay’ or ‘anti-LGBT’ sentiments have some nerve expressing sympathy for something that occurred because of their false beliefs and the way in which our society treats members of the LGBT community. By the way, I use sympathy rather than empathy because sympathy disconnects people, whereas empathy connects them. There is absolutely nothing about being ‘anti-gay’ or ‘anti-LGBT’ that involves anything other than disconnecting people.”

In response to that article, “a number of people expressed their right to Freedom of Speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, I never said that they can’t say certain things; rather, that they shouldn’t. With rights come responsibilities. It is irresponsible to say and do things merely because you have the right to say and do them, particularly when you completely disregard the harm it causes.

As the violence in our society escalates as a direct result of the way in which such people opt to exercise their Freedom of Speech, they insist that more guns and assault weapons be made available for protection – ‘protection’ from the violence their hatred, disrespect and abuse of others has created. They once again focus on a constitutionally protected right – the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. As with the constitutionally protected right to Freedom of Speech, they completely disregard the reality that along with rights come responsibilities. They fight against any form of gun control because they believe that the right to keep and bear arms is and should be completely unfettered.”

On Nov. 23rd, I read an article in the ABA Journal titled Mom sues child and clinic over transgender treatment, claims Minnesota law violates parental rights.

Bear in mind that this particular mother kicked that same child out of the house for being transgender.

Now, she wants to exercise her parental rights. What about her parental responsibilities? Was she acting responsibly or irresponsibly in kicking her child out of the house for being transgender?

Sadly, this particular mother is by no means alone in her insistence on her parental rights and refusal to exercise her corresponding parental responsibilities.

"Nearly seven in 10 (68%) respondents indicated that family rejection was a major factor contributing to LGBT youth homelessness, making it the most cited factor. More than half (54%) of respondents indicated that abuse in their family was another important factor contributing to LGBT homelessness.

Statistically, LGBT youth make up no more than 10% of that population segment, yet total 40% of homeless youth."

Social science researcher Brene’ Brown has said the following:

When it comes to our sense of love, belonging, and worthiness, we are most radically shaped by our families of origin – what we hear, what we are told, and perhaps most importantly, how we observe our parents engaging with the world….

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are….

Throughout the country and regardless of type of school, middle and high school students talk openly about the heartache of not feeling a sense of belonging at home.”

Are parents acting within their parental rights in causing their children not to feel a sense of belonging at home, or is it the result of a failure to exercise their parental responsibilities?

It's worth noting that many modern-day conservative Republicans hold Ayn Rand in very high regard, despite the fact that the following quote is attributed to her:

"Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)."

Meanwhile, the 2016 Republican Platform was quite the contrary, as was Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric. There are reasons why Trump was endorsed and supported by the alt-right, white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, the KKK and other such groups.

However, consider the following from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics:

"The essence of democracy is majority rule, the making of binding decisions by a vote of more than one-half of all persons who participate in an election. However, constitutional democracy in our time requires majority rule with minority rights. Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, expressed this concept of democracy in 1801 in his First Inaugural Address. He said,

'All . . . will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect and to violate would be oppression.'

In every genuine democracy today, majority rule is both endorsed and limited by the supreme law of the constitution, which protects the rights of individuals. Tyranny by minority over the majority is barred, but so is tyranny of the majority against minorities.

This fundamental principle of constitutional democracy, majority rule coupled with the protection of minority rights, is embedded in the constitutions of all genuine democracies today....

Majority rule is limited in order to protect minority rights, because if it were unchecked it probably would be used to oppress persons holding unpopular views. Unlimited majority rule in a democracy is potentially just as despotic as the unchecked rule of an autocrat or an elitist minority political party."

The following is an excerpt from an article titled Power in Negotiation: The Impact on Negotiators and the Negotiation Process that was recently published by Harvard Law School's Program on Negotiation:

"Powerful Negotiators Lose Perspective

One of the most crucial skills that negotiators can develop is perspective taking, or the ability to appreciate and understand the world from another person’s vantage point.

This brings us to the most consistently negative effect of power on negotiation behavior and outcomes: powerful negotiators often fail to take their counterpart’s perspective. Power leads individuals to overlook what the other party wants and needs and why he needs it.

Power in negotiation is most effective at the bargaining table when combined with perspective taking. When the powerful take time to consider their counterpart’s points of view, they harness the positive benefits of power (including the making of first offers and persistence) without succumbing to excessive risk taking. The ultimate lesson? Strive to possess power in negotiation – or simply feel powerful – and follow up with perspective taking."

According to Brene' Brown, Ph.D., in the United States, the majority culture is white, Judeo-Christian, middle class, educated, and straight.

In other words, the "powerful negotiators" in our society are members of the "dominant culture."

Dr. Brown also contends that empathy is a skill set and that the core of empathy is perspective taking. She also says that perspective taking is normally taught or modeled by parents. The more your perspective is in line with the dominant culture, the less you were probably taught about perspective taking, which is entirely consistent with the loss of perspective by powerful negotiators.

Unfortunately, this is why we have so much conflict in our society.

Perspective-taking is the core of empathy, which is the key to conflict resolution or management. This is why empathy conversations are so incredibly important.

More from Mark B. Baer, Esq.
More from Psychology Today