Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Do you have a right to your own behavior?

Is the answer,

a) Yes!
b) No!
c) Well, within reason, I guess...
d) That's a stupid question and you're stupid for asking it!

Believe it or not, I'm going with (d).  When you think about it, what does the word "right" mean in this case?  I'll consult the dictionary to eliminate some semantics argument:

right [rahyt]
18. a just claim or title, whether legal, prescriptive, or moral: You have a right to say what you please.
19. Sometimes, rights. that which is due to anyone by just claim, legal guarantees, moral principles, etc.: women's rights; Freedom of speech is a right of all Americans.

While I do not think that people should not be able to exercise their "rights" I think the word itself is bullshit and that it encourages people to develop a mindset of entitlement.  When you have rights, you strut about with your chest puffed out, thinking "I can XXX and you can't stop me because you're not allowed!"  In all reality, many people are perfectly capable of violating your rights at any time, and just because they don't we somehow believe our rights are more secure than they really are.  Secondly, the idea of "rights" encourages the notion that these things are mandated by some power greater than ourselves.  This is not true: it is we as humans who 1) decide what our rights are, 2) work to preserve our rights, and 3) deny others whatever rights they think they should have.  Rights are a construct of mankind.  Speaking in terms of rights only clouds the true issue being discussed.

Case in point: your behavior.  Do you have the right to do as you please?  Debatable.  Do you have the ability to do as you please?  Yes you do.  Let's work with this for a second: you have the ability to do as you please.  You can take stuff out of stores, you can break windows and key cars, you can eat a whole pie by yourself and yes, you can feel guilty about it.  Now, let's explore the idea that everyone has the ability to do as they please.  That means that they can forcibly take the stuff you took from the stores, they can run you over with their freshly keyed cars, and they can eat that apple pie you were going to eat even though you thought you shouldn't.  So, now we have an issue of choice: what do you choose to do in order to satisfy your wants - with or without incurring the wrath of others while doing so?

This wasn't my original topic for today (I was going to write about racism/sexism), but this came up because of some trouble that has been brewing for some time in my house.  My sister, with whom I live, is a teenager, and I grudgingly forgive her for that.  I know it's a tough time.  However, she has gotten it into her head that her mood rules her behavior, and that she is therefore not responsible for said behavior.  Because she is very adept at finding reasons to be moody, this makes for a somewhat constantly unpleasant sister.  She is sarcastic, snappish, and abusive towards her (and my) younger sister, among other unpleasantries.  We've tried telling her not to be these things many times, that we find it unpleasant, that we would prefer she act on her mood in other ways, but this 1) has absolutely no effect on her behavior, and 2) results in immediately increased moodiness.

So what to do?  Does she have the right to behave as she does?  Or, to rephrase it my way, do we have the ability to break her things until the point gets across?  I kid, that is not something that I would do (I cannot say the same for my father).  Anyway, what we do about this situation from here on out is our business, and we'll find a way.  In the greater society, however, the notion that one has a right to their behavior is not uncommon.  Is there someone in your school that walks around like they own the place?  Is there someone in your office who consistently disregards others' wishes (or is an ass)?  They have the ability to act that way: and they do!  The question is not about them.  The question is not about whether or not they have the right to that behavior.  The question is, with your ability to to what you want, what are you going to do about it?


Charlene said...

Well, teenagers are a different story in general. It's a cruel joke that their amygdala (the part of the brain associated with emotions) goes into major overdrive before the prefrontal cortex (the part that makes good judgments)is developed.

Stephen said...

Yeah, even now I find it hard to re-create those upside-down times in my head. Thanks for commenting!

Lucia Phillips said...

I agree with you. Right is hard to firgure out.

please stop by my blog sometime.


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