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Random thoughts about random things by a random person

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Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. As with my other posts, it’s something that’s been bouncing around inside of my head for a while and I’ve mulled it over, thinking about the different sides of it, mentally chewing on it before writing about it.

This is a longer post than I planned, so in case you don’t have the time to read the full thing, the gist of it is this: With our rights and freedoms, come responsibilities. Sometimes we seem to forget about that and think that simply because we have the right to do something, we will go ahead and do it, forgetting – or perhaps not even ever having realized – that there are responsibilities attached to that action.

First, before getting into what I am talking about, I think I need to clear up what I’m not talking about. This post isn’t about whether or not I think someone has or should have a particular right or not. Neither am I promoting or negating any of the positions on this question. I think all sides have the right to their positions and I think they all have valid points.

What seems to be missing in a lot of cases, though, is the recognition or acknowledgement of the reality that while we may very well have the right to do something, we also need to accept that there are consequences when we exercise those rights. Subsequently, when we accept those consequences, it seems to me that we also accept that there is an inherent acceptance of responsibility, as well.

For example, we have probably all been asked, at some point or another, by a friend, spouse, or family member: “Do I look fat in this?” Now, I live where we have freedom of speech. Therefore, I am within my legal rights to say:  “Well, you are fat. Of course you look fat.” But…somewhere inside of me (perhaps burned in from past experience) there is a little voice that says: “DON’T say it! DON’T say it!!!” Because if I do, there are various consequences, and none of them positive. (You should probably make sure you have your will and all your affairs in order, if you do decide to take the first option!!)

Nooooo…. I’m not suggesting that we full out lie to them and let our friends/spouses/family members run around wearing things that are totally unflattering, if they’ve asked. I’m just saying there are probably ways to do it that differ from what our initial, internal response would have us say. Perhaps a gentler, “You know, that other dress you tried on brought out the colour of your eyes better. I think that one is more flattering.”

The point is, I have the right to say almost whatever I want in this situation, including something insulting, but should I? Probably not. If there’s another way to act, with better consequences, not just for me, but for others, including society in general, then I should at least consider following that path.

Before we speak, for most of us, there’s an automatic process that lets us know if there is a potentially dangerous situation ahead. If we ignore that first indication, there’s usually another one when we start down a path that’s particularly dangerous. You know…the old “foot in mouth” path. “Ohhhh….How nice that you are taking your mother out to dinner!” “She’s not my mother; she’s my wife.” Oops.

Sometimes, if we keep ignoring that alert, it stops alerting us. Then we become really flexible because one or both feet are quite regularly in our mouths. 🙂

If we pay attention to it, and to the reactions of those around us when we speak, we can strengthen that alert system, and it can keep us pretty safe. We recognize from either our own past experiences or from those we’ve heard about that just because one member of a couple is obviously (or appears to be) considerably older/younger than the other, it does not mean there is a parental relationship. And we avoid said gaffe. Phew!!

Conversely, there are times when something can be important enough that even though the alert is sounding, we know that we still need to speak. I was on a train once that was filled mostly with Sikhs. I sat in the first available seat and across from me was a white guy. He made some disparaging comments about the Sikhs. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember that I couldn’t stomach it. My alert system said I should shut up because I didn’t know this man and didn’t know how he would react. I knew that at the very least he wouldn’t be pleased, though. But I had to ignore the alert and I calmly told him to not assume that all white people feel the same as him and that I would appreciate it if he kept his comments to himself.

I knew there was the potentiality for unpleasant consequences if I spoke, but there would for sure be unpleasant consequences if I didn’t speak. Firstly, he, and those around us, would assume I agreed with his close-minded, hateful comments. Secondly, I would have had difficulty respecting myself if I kept silent. So I accepted the responsibility of ignoring that alert. Thankfully, he just looked surprised, sat back, and didn’t say or do anything else. Maybe he thought twice before he did the same thing the next time. I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. I did what I felt was right and did not need to be ashamed.

That responsibility for consequence applies to probably all of our rights. I don’t think our forebears came up with our respective rights (depending on whatever country we are in) so that we could run amok, doing whatever we want, willy-nilly, just because we have the right to do it. There are literally billions of people on this planet who don’t have the same rights and freedoms that I have. I think the best way to protect those rights and freedoms is to respect them. For me, respecting them includes using them more mindfully.

I say “more mindfully” because this whole exercise (the pre-writing thought process and the writing itself) has really made me think about them more seriously. I’ve grown up with a wonderful set of liberties, most of them I probably was not even aware of while growing up and I’ve just taken them for granted. As an adult, though, I became more aware of them and came to respect them, particularly as I’ve become more and more aware of the lack of freedom in other parts of the world.

My objective was to hopefully bring others to think more about the responsibility incumbent upon us as we exercise our rights and liberties. And I still hope that will happen. But, quite unexpectedly, I’ve also come myself to have an even greater respect and even a reverence for my rights and freedoms. Unexpected, but welcome. 🙂

That’s one of the things I love about journaling (this blog is just an online journal of sorts) – it forces me to think about my thoughts (sounds kinda oxymoronic, huh?!) and frequently lands me in a different place than I ever intended!

Take away? Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. If I realize I am responsible for the consequences, maybe that will help me better decide what I do.

NOTE: In talking about responsibility in this, I don’t mean to imply that we are responsible for other people’s actions. I don’t expand on that here because that would make this entry even longer and if you’ve made it this far, well, you deserve a break. Go, get a mug of tea or hot chocolate or something, and have a rest. You’ve earned it!! 😉