do-the-right-thing
“Right – Definition – noun
 
  1. that which is morally correct, just, or honourable.
    “she doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong”
  2. a moral or legal entitlement to have or do something.
    “she had every right to be angry””

Sometime in high school, I had the good fortune of being elected to join the local provincial youth parliament. Granted, it was no more than a title, but one can always learn from such things. Case in point, on the day of our first and last sitting, a very prominent politician addressed us and defined democracy using a simple metaphor. He defined it as a 2 way street that everyone was free to use but that could only work smoothly for the benefit of all users if each individual driver and pedestrian alike stuck to the rules and regulations governing such use. What he was saying was simple – freedom only works if we respect that everyone else is free too. I remember little to nothing else of what he said, but I remember this.

In fact, that little metaphor has informed my understanding of rights significantly more than my law degree. I found myself thinking of it in my early twenties as I watched Tyra Banks conduct what, in my mind, was arguably the worst interview ever with a self-professed and unapologetic escort. The young lady was absolutely clear that she had two college degrees, had been brought up in a happy healthy home, had never been abused and had elected to become an escort because she could earn a college graduate intern’s annual salary in a month. To her it was a no-brainer. Tyra, could not wrap her mind around the fact that an informed person might make anything less than the choice Tyra herself would have made. Despite, the young lady being crystal clear that her decision was not informed by emotional deficit, Tyra descended into a sad cycle of questioning with the sole purpose of proving her guest was broken so she could fix it. “I am sure you have issues with your mother. Did she abuse you? I can pay for counselling for you.” “Were you sexually abused? Maybe you repressed it? I can pay for counselling for you.” “I am sure you were raised in a home were you had to struggle for everything.” At the end of the interview, the interviewee had an irritated smile on her face and the interviewer was frustrated because she could not fit her guest into the boxes she had in her mind.

Tyra is not the first or the last person to interpret a right to mean doing right or doing morally right in her mind. In fact, very recently, a colleague assumed my fiancé and I live together. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s a common thing. What was interesting was her reaction to me stating that we have in fact, elected not to live together until after the wedding. Aside from choking on her tea while spluttering out, “you’re kidding right??” she also felt the need to inform me rather passionately, that this was no longer the Stone Age and I was crazy to do that. In fact, in an effort to save me from myself she became quite aggressive about trying to get me to concede her point. Her point boiled down to what I was doing was wrong because that is not what she would have done.

World wars are made of this fallacy. This is the one thing that Islamic and other religious extremists, burn-your-bra feminists and very many ordinary people have in common. When a person is granted a right, they are granted an option to exercise that right one way or the other. They are not obliged to do what everyone perceives as morally right or just right. This is why voting is encouraged but not mandatory. This is why each one of us is entitled to choose to believe in God or a god but not obliged to. This is why people are free to choose to be sexually liberal or not. This is why an educated, independent woman is entitled to choose to look at pictures of beefy men on Instagram for entertainment. This is why being a feminist doesn’t equate to burning my bra. This is why Samantha Brick should not have been attacked for electing to base her second marriage on what some viewed as archaic principles. Her non-negotiables are a choice she is entitled to.

Perhaps we would all do well to take a step back and clean the lens through which we view life of the layers of dust deposited by our own prejudices and experiences. A right is more than just an entitlement to any specific thing. It is a right to a choice in matters relating to the self.

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