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David Saia

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What is the difference to culture if, instead of promoting rights and entitlements, we enforced duties and obligations to each other.

We are constantly hearing about our rights- our right to privacy, our right to property, our right to education, our right to the pursuit of happiness . . . . These rights are then codified by laws and we use courts to enforce penalties based on a violation of rights.

What if we reversed the process and talked about duties? We do it in small ways- we have a duty to raise and protect our children, we have a duty to make our properties safe, to name two examples. But what if we had a duty to educate our children, a duty to care and help support our neighbors, a duty to respect another's religion or creed or sexual preference, a duty to love and be faithful to our families, a duty to be honest and forthright in business?

Some may say this is the other side of the same coin, but I don't think that is the whole issue. Thinking of ourselves as entitled to something and in possession of certain idealistic "rights" we shift the burden of responsibility away from the individual and the community and relegate the enforcement of these rights to another- usually a governing body. This allows a person devoid of morals to still yell about what they are somehow owed, never being able to touch what most would assert is a proper way to live based on particular cultural norms and customs.

The former has the potential, it seems to me, of reducing our communities and cultures to a collection of disconnected individuals, while the latter enforces a cultural identity and unity. Further, the former invites organizations- be they governments or corporations- to provide what we claim as entitlements as we go off and live our lives without responsibility or concern beyond our immediate families, while the latter allows us to appreciate our crucial role as a part of a culture and a set of beliefs about how to live as part of a community larger than ourselves.

Picture a generation of children raised to feel duties to each other and their lands, would the world be better or worse?

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  • Nov 15 2011: Finally, I guess my point is that there is a huge difference between "empowering" people with rights they can pound their fists to enforce, and engendering children with the idea that they have a duty to each other and to the land and to their communities. The former empowers only bitterness while the latter enforces understanding, compassion, respect, and cultural identity. That seems clear, at least to me, from at minimum a psychological perspective. We can contribute a dollar to causes that seem correct, and then we feel better and go about our lives thinking we are making a difference - but do we teach our children why or show our children where the problem lies, or show them what it means to lead a good life . . . .?

    Hey, the US is young- we may still get there.

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