Rarely a week passes without another painful reminder that serious tension exists between our rights and our responsibilities. The sad truth is that many individuals can no longer distinguish between them. This is precisely why virtually every organization specifically writes detailed lists of each in its governance documentation and procedural manuals. Last fall, some NFL players took the opportunity to sit down during the playing of our National Anthem. Do they have the “right?” Certainly. Is it right? No. More recently the airlines have had more “dust-ups” with passengers exercising what they saw as rights, which contradict airline employee responsibilities. In modern culture we see that the pendulum has clearly drifted toward exercising individual “rights” to the extent that responsibilities, personal or corporate, are only considered as after-thoughts. Coins have heads and tails.
We understand that God has created man with free will; it’s been getting us into trouble ever since. Rights and responsibilities lie as counterweights on the extremes of an invisible bungee cord. No wonder life has so many ups and downs! We have freedom to stretch our bungee cords, testing new ideas and behaviors, and questioning goals and values. Trusting a bungee cord that isn’t firmly attached is foolish, or even worse, deadly. It is folly too to blindly exercise rights or responsibilities without a solid moral anchor. It is only when we are firmly rooted that we will always safely rebound and return “home.”
In the end, Right and Responsibility sit perched as the two heads on Dr. Doolittle’s Pushme-Pullyou, yet they remain permanently fused at the body. In a way, Right and Responsibility remain both master and captain, and so the tension between them will persist. However, it is worth remembering that without a willingness to take responsibility, rights will disappear.