Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rights and Responsibilites

We live in an interesting culture, we Americans.  From the very beginning, our government and our society have been wrapped up in the twin virtues of rights and responsibilities.  If you did a word association experiment, if you said either of those words, you'd get the other a good portion of the time.

But somewhere along the line, our culture seems to have forgotten about one of them.  Any American who's been exposed to any other American for more than ten minutes knows which one it is.

Yes, we're all wound up about our rights, the real ones and the perceived ones.  But nobody wants to acknowledge the pesky twin, the burdensome responsibility that goes along with each and every right, real or imagined.

I'm not going to get into the politics of it, although I have my suspicions about how things got to this point.  There are plenty of blogs that cover that stuff, and I don't have the energy to argue about it.

In the interest of providing an example, though, what about a public figure who goes on TV or Twitter and says something offensive, stupid, or provably false?  When someone calls him on it, the first response is always something like:

I though this was still America.  Don't I have a right to free speech!  I'm being oppressed!  They're trying to silence me!

Well, of course, you have right to free speech.  You just exercised it.  Nobody came and threw you in the Gulag or made you disappear.  But your words don't exist in a vacuum and you are now responsible for the effect they have.  You also have the right to be stupid and wrong, and every last one of us has the right to tell you so.

I just checked my copy of the Constitution, and I don't see a right to not be offended, or a right to lie and expect not to be called to task for it.

Americans, though, hate the thought of ever being questioned or proven wrong.  I used to argue with a former co-worker that sure, we can have our own opinions, but we don't get our own facts.  If I can prove you are wrong, I'm not going to agree to disagree.  You're just wrong.

There's no shame it being wrong.  One of the most amazing things we can do as humans is to change our minds once we are exposed to new information.  So few of us are willing to do that, though.

Why?  Again, I have my suspicions, but I'll leave that to you to consider.