So we seem to be fixated on our rights and freedoms lately, as we should be, but in an increasingly bizarre way. There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding what is a right, what is a freedom, and who has the right to decide who gets to do what. Politically, I’m not sure I want to get into that on this blog at this juncture. But spiritually, I have a few thoughts to share.
First of all, I think we can all agree that we don’t particularly like other people telling us how to live our lives for reasons with which we don’t agree. I dare say that’s a fairly universal truth. If you think I’m making rules up on authority which doesn’t exist and using those rules to keep you from doing things I don’t like, you’re going to be upset.
Secondly, nearly every religion has some doctrine or principle which basically says not to be horrible to other people. Granted, the definition of who counts as “people” is sometimes a little hazy. But still, for all intents and purposes we almost all adhere to some version of the golden rule. That’s because it’s one of the mechanisms by which society works. If you don’t want me to treat you badly, then it is also your responsibility not to treat me that way, and vice versa. It allows us to all assume that most people are going to cooperate, and we all live together relatively peacefully. That’s the deal, and it applies here as much as any place. If you want freedom, you also have to extend it to other people.
Third, there is only one reason why two people’s rights or freedoms would conflict with each other, and that’s because one person wants their freedom to give them special authority over the actions of others. For instance, if I want the right to eat chocolate cake every night and my spouse wants the right to never eat chocolate cake again, we’re fine. I don’t get to make my spouse eat the cake, and she can’t stop me from eating mine. Everything is groovy.
But if I want the right to make everyone in the house eat chocolate cake every night and my spouse wants to never have to eat it, we have a problem. And the problem isn’t that she doesn’t want to eat the cake. Her not wanting cake doesn’t have anything at all to do with me having it. I don’t have the right to make everyone do what I want.
See, there’s a fundamental difference between “I want to be able to do this thing” and “I want everyone to do this thing with me.” There’s a difference between “you’re stepping on my toes” and “I’ve put on these very large clown shoes and you’re stepping where my toes would be if my feet were actually that big.”
Don’t be the jerk in the clown shoes.