Are we focusing on rights at the expense of the responsibilities that come with them?
What if, along with the Declaration of Human Rights, there was a Declaration of Human Responsibilities to go along with those rights? A key issue with current rights talk is a lack of understanding of the responsibilities that go with them.
These responsibilities are those of the individuals though, not just the sometimes assumed responsibility of the state(s) to respect those human rights. I am talking about the responsibility required of each individual human and group towards their rights too. For example, one of the human rights is for shelter and food, a basic human need. But, as an individual, I have a right to have access to those things, even maybe be provided with those things but, I also have a responsibility to take care of my shelter and not waste my food or squander my resources in such a way as to make it impossible to access the food. If I, as an individual, am not taking my own action and at least attempting to be responsible for myself in that way, can I still claim the “right” to food and shelter? I would say no, that due to my irresponsibility I have forfeited that right until I change my habits.
This idea can expand outward and upward too. Human Rights are meant to protect human dignity. Dignity, I think, is the human potential to be virtuous. But, one does not simply become virtuous without putting in effort, that is the responsibility attached to human dignity and its protection. If one is going to have rights they must also responsibly use or enact those rights. As an easy example, in the U.S. we have a “right to vote,” the problem is many do not vote which is their responsibility as U.S. citizens.
Luckily, this right is enshrined in the law so it is not lost due to lack of use but, in order to truly protect this right, one must also actually take responsibility for their actions and vote.
The question is, have we focused so much on rights that we have somewhat forgotten the responsibilities which also come with those rights? How would that change how we all look at our rights and lives as citizens?