If I could stand up and say This Is My Right and receive in response agreement on that statement from all who consider it, then I would never need to explain or fight or beg. In this perfect world of imagination, every person would be born with the knowledge of the complete set of rights due to each of us, and each of us would be treated equally, without necessity of debate.
In the world of actuality, we live in a nation of vast numbers of diverse people who do not all agree on basic human or civil rights. Is every one of us entitled to a living wage, to health care, to education? Is every one of us entitled to marry whomever we choose? Is every one of us entitled to relieve ourselves in the public bathroom that best suits us?
We don’t agree on how basic services should be paid for, who should run them, or what those services should include. We don’t agree on who should be forced to live or be allowed to die, or on who should be able to decide these questions.
When we talk about human rights or civil rights, often an assumption is made that these are so basic, so intrinsic to every person’s well-being, that every person should, of course, at least agree on how these are defined. Except, this is not our reality. We do not all agree even at this basic level, and the fact that we disagree so deeply is the reason each of us must fight for those rights we feel should be basic tenets of our very existence as human beings.
Each of has been born into a particular circumstance and raised in a certain way and experienced certain occurrences in our lives, and all of these things contribute to our individual set of values. Each of us sees our own views as being most correct and most just, and this is the crux of the problem. Those who hold views diametrically opposed to mine think their views are most correct and most just. Each of us wants the world to function in the way we think is best, but reality is that we can’t all have everything we think we should have. One way or another, one or both sides must compromise some aspect of our opposing views in order to coexist peacefully in this world we share, even if that compromise is simply each of us deciding we’ll look the other way and choose not to allow the odd behavior of those “others” to bother us or to keep us from enjoying our own lives.
Of course, there are many times when we cannot simply accept an opposing view, because that view has the effect of damaging our lives or the lives of someone we love in a significant way, and then we have no choice but to fight for what we believe is correct and just. Always, though, we need to remember that there will never be a time when every other person will agree with us about what is correct and just, that this is true even when the alternative seems to our thinking to be incomprehensibly wrong or cruel. There is no great truth that every human being on earth adheres to. Not a single one.
It will never be enough to stand up and say This Is My Right because there will always be someone who disagrees and who is willing to put up an equal fight for their opposing view.
In this country of millions of people who never all agree on anything, who will never all want to live exactly the same kind of life, we still need to be able to get things done. We developed a system to accomplish this whereby each of us gets a vote and those votes carry power to achieve goals en masse. We vote to elect representatives, and our representatives vote to make or change or enforce the laws that determine what rights we are granted in this country. We’ve developed complicated procedures in order to deal with the fact that we will never all agree, nor do we wish our country to become a place where everyone must agree in order for important things to get done.
In order to get things done, we must interact with those who disagree with our views. We vote to elect people to represent us in our government, but even these representatives we’ve supported do not always agree with us on every issue. There is no such thing as the perfect candidate, perfect representative, perfect official. There are only degrees of agreement with those we’ve elected to represent us. Sometimes our representatives agree with us on very few issues, because those who voted in support of them agree with us on very few issues. This is the system we created. This is the system we must operate within in order to get things done.
This is why progress is often exceedingly slow and is frequently incremental. We often do not get everything we want, nor do we get anything we want very quickly. The millions of people living in this country who do not all agree with each other vote to elect representatives. In order to get things done, we can try to persuade representatives, or we can try to persuade people who vote for representatives. Persuasion can take many forms: evidence, advertisements, appeals, payment, shame, threats. A change in viewpoint can happen naturally or can be coerced. When we fight for a thing we feel should be our inherent human or civil right, we must use some or all of these methods to accomplish our goal because everyone will not agree with us. Those with an opposing view will use the same means to thwart our efforts and to achieve their own goals.
There is no absolute right or wrong, there is only what a particular group of people decides is right or wrong. Every person will not ever agree on what is absolutely right or wrong. If I choose to interact only with those who agree with me, things will only get done within that small group of those who agree with me. Big things that I would like to get done, things that affect the greater society I live within, will not get done if I do not communicate with those who do not agree with me.
If everyone had to agree in order for things to get done, something big would have to happen to make us all accept the exact same kind of life. Usually this kind of change happens over the course of a very long time and is the culmination of many, many slow, incremental changes that have spanned decades. To speed up this process, we would all have to be coerced in some way to agree to things we didn’t actually believe in. This is how a repressed society operates. A domineering leader decides how everyone will live and demands citizens comply, or else. There is no debate, no consideration of individual desires or values that contradict those held by the leader. No one can even suggest an alternative without serious consequences. This is the exact opposite of the freedom we Americans claim we hold dear. This is why the system we developed to get things done includes complex protections against one side or another always being able to get what they want without negotiating with their opposition. Our system protects against one side or another perpetually being able to force their concept of right vs. wrong on everyone. The millions of diverse people in this country will never all agree on what is right or what is wrong. There is no perfection that isn’t illusion.
If I believe that This Is My Right, I must do my best to persuade as many of my fellow citizens as I can to agree with me, so that they also vote for representatives who agree with me, so that laws are enacted to define this thing I believe is my right. I can never expect that my views are universal or that my rights are permanent. I must always be prepared to fight.
I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #13 of 52.