“All, too, 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” (Thomas Jefferson).
A CONCERN FOR THE RIGHTS OF EACH CITIZEN IS DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. This has been a part of the strength of our culture. And while the bitter partisanship of the present day seems to be tearing our society to pieces, the debate is still an important one: how can the rights of the many be beneficially balanced against the rights of the few?
In today’s reading, let’s do what we’ve done with many of these “enthusiastic ideas”: let’s view the idea of “rights” as a gift we can give. Regardless of public laws and social policies, how am I treating the human beings that I actually come in contact with? If those who interact with me know I will bend over backwards to respect their rights and defend them against injustice, I will have given them a great gift. And if this is true anywhere, it’s especially true in our families.
Perhaps the greatest gift of all is when a person says, “Let me subordinate my rights to your needs. I am willing to sacrifice my personal prerogatives so that you can have what you need.” Some say that such a thing would be weak and timid, but the sacrificial yielding of one’s rights is one of the most transformative principles in the world. If you are a Christian, you will recognize that this is one of the main principles that made Jesus of Nazareth such a pivotal figure in history.
When rights are being discussed, it is frequently pointed out that rights must never be separated from responsibilities, and that’s the insight we should end our discussion with today. Joseph T. O’Callahan said it this way: “Many who think that they are taking life seriously are actually only taking themselves seriously. Who takes himself seriously is overconscious of his rights; who takes life seriously is fully conscious of his obligations.” So which do you and I think about the most?
If we’re concerned about the defense of our own rights, we need to understand that those rights will be taken most seriously by society when we take our share of the blame for what is wrong with society.
“Rights that do not flow from duty well performed are not worth having” (Mohandas Gandhi).