Coo Coo for Coco-Nuts?

A friend posted this on FB today and it prompted an interesting inner conversation which it looks like I will inflict on you. Her point was,  “Don’t tell me what to do. Thank you.”

I appreciate the sentiment, really. Unsolicited advice comes easily in this digital age. It’s as if we have nosy aunties and uncles hiding around every bush, waiting for the opportunity to correct or advise us.

Like the email I opened last week from someone with too much time on their hands who berated me and then wrote a prayer which he prefaced with: pray this. It was an order. He really wanted me to be forgiven for allowing gays and lesbians to worship and serve in our church.  

As the quote ends, “Don’t like your rights taken away? Don’t take a way someone else’s.” Individual rights are important. They are what fuels forward movements and have spurred significant changes in unjust laws around the world. It reminds us that we are all different – and that each human life matters. This is something I hold central to my faith and philosophy of living in the world. But I really could have gone the rest of my life without another berating from someone who doesn’t know me (or likely any other-than-heterosexual people.) But, if he wants to do that, he has the right to speak his mind.

But rights. Hmmm. It’s sort of tricky. Just because you have a “right” to hate people, or shoot a semi-automatic rifle or blow smoke rings in someone’s face or watch “Debbie does Dallas” doesn’t mean it is any good at all for the community, your family, your children, your neighbor’s children, or even YOU.

I hate to get all socialist on you, but the way societies and cultures survive and thrive is when they serve the common good. Some things need a little direction now and again in order to accomplish that. Like cigarettes (which create health problems for many who never smoked a day in their lives.) Or drugs (which contribute to violent crimes). Why? Because even though we have the right to drink a couple of bottles of 3 Buck Chuck doesn’t mean it’s a swell idea. Sometimes our judgments are short-sighted.

One small digression. We used to chose vocations to serve the common good. We did this for the survival of our families and society. I worry that in the “my rights” haven that the U.S. is, we are sending our young people out to follow their personal bliss – and that is all. Our calling in the world could be about our strengths and talents meeting the needs of the world. For it’s benefit and ours.

If we want to be peaceful, tolerant people, it requires us to communicate with people with whom we disagree – and even perhaps accept advice from them. (HORROR!) Even if we think are just plain Coo Coo for Coco-Nuts.

As much as I wish that we were “together” enough to have self-control and respect and work for the common good, that just isn’t always the case. 

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3 Responses to Coo Coo for Coco-Nuts?

  1. Michael Sullenszino says:

    I think our conception of rights is often very shallow and naive. I have heard all kinds of outlandish things regarding them. Are they fundamental, can we create more rights or are they a natural kind, do all rights require a corresponding duty, under what conditions do we remove rights? These questions all revolve around the core status of the individual. Prior to 1600 or so (with the ubiquitous exception of parts of ancient greece) societies were more geared towards the idea of duty and there is correspondingly a weaker fundamental conception of individuality. Around 1600 we get a particular definition of rationality and individuality that transforms the globe, but has show to have as many aporias and generates as many questions as answers. Our increasing mass effect on the biosphere greatly calls into question our isolated individuality (many of the great innovators on rights assumed that there would always be enough space if society was too oppressive, just go to the Americas, there will always be enough land there to set up shop all alone). Since we don’t have a strong sense of what an individual is (we are very social in our innermost consciousness and utterly dependent on gravity, oxygen, atmospheric radiation shields, water, a constant intake of minerals, calories, glucose), it is often hard to separate the individual from the environment. Much of our issues with rights revolve around these permeable boundaries. Abortion: can consider the fetus an individual. Environment: if your pollution poisons my river and give me cancer, are you culpable, do I have “rights” to a clean environment (that is stretching rights talk past where it may be useful). Marriage: that is not an individual thing it is the melding of two “individuals”, Property. Do Children have rights? etc, etc. If you ask most people what a right is, you’ll like get a similar response to the question of what time is: “If you don’t ask me I know what it is, but when you do I am puzzled and don’t know…”. We need to figure out (or at least have respectful dialogue on) the substansive stuff (the nature of the individual, our place on the planet, duties and rationality). Rights floats lightly on top of those conceptions and not the other way around. It may be that rights talk cannot solve these problems and we’ll have to situate rights (while very important) in a broader and deeper conversation and politics.

    • shannonbeck2 says:

      Good thoughts, Mike, esp. the historical piece. Interesting point about the permeable boundaries, esp. when we, as Americans, THINK we are self-made, moving toward independence, etc. The bigger picture. Yep.

  2. michawl c wier says:

    so true,especially today. everyone better listen up to this one. we are in a situation where “rights were granted by God, but the state has over ruled him and has decided their right to grant permission….or, not. mcw

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