Rights: Individual vs Societal

In the past few years, we’ve seen the conflict between individual and societal rights become more contentious, divisive and violent than any time in recent history. That’s, in part, because it’s become more important to be right than to find a balance between these two sets of rights.

The question is “How do we regain the balance that allows us to live together respectfully and collaboratively?”

Ever-present conflict

There will always be conflict between individual rights and societal rights as well as between individuals’ rights. It’s the natural order of things. How we deal with these conflicts is another matter. We can choose to look for solutions in which everyone benefits to some degree or we can adopt a winner-take-all mentality. 

The former leads to respect, mutual care and concern, and solutions that create long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships. The latter produces what we’ve been experiencing for the last five or six years: fear, anxiety, frustration, bitterness and violence.

What, then, do we need to do to regain each other’s respect? To demonstrate genuine care and concern for each other…whether we agree or not? How do we regain the joy that the sense of community creates?

Simple answer

We need to lose the desire to be right. It’s wonderful that you have a clear set of values and beliefs that guide you on your journey through life. These values and beliefs can be the source of great joy as long as you respect others’ rights to their values and beliefs.

It’s when we presume that our values and beliefs are “right” and that we must convince others to abandon their beliefs, their values and adopt ours that we cross the line from advocate to imposer. Once we cross the line, we create resistance for the ideas we’re trying to promote. The harder we push, the more resistance we create. The greater the resistance, the greater the likelihood that conflict ensues and spawns anger, bitterness and violence.

These nasty results can be avoided by developing a mindset in which we look for solutions that respect the rights, values and beliefs of all involved while understanding that no one is likely to get everything they desire.  

Balancing rights

When a conflict between individual rights and societal rights arises, I recall Spock’s admonition “The good of the many outweigh the good of the few.” During the recent mask mandates, I didn’t enjoy wearing a mask any more than anyone else. Indeed, my initial reaction was “I’m reasonably healthy. I’m not worried about being infected.” 

Then I heard that it was possible to have contracted covid and not know it, which meant that I could be a carrier and infect others. The fear of infecting others is what convinced me to wear a mask throughout the pandemic. 

The good of the many outweigh the good of the few is a simple concept that serves us all well in times when society’s health and wellness is under attack. 

Balancing individual rights is a bit more challenging. The likelihood of a win/lose mentality developing in both parties is much greater. One of the ways to avoid escalation in this type of conflict is for each party to write down why their rights should prevail. Then each should put themselves in the other party’s position and write the reasons why their rights should be honored.

This simple exercise opens our minds to the fact that there is legitimacy to both sets of claims. It also highlights areas of agreement…where values and beliefs are aligned. It’s in the discovery of the shared beliefs and values that a reasonable solution is achievable and the foundation of long-term relationships are laid.

It also helps to open the discussion of individual rights with a verbal agreement that neither of the parties is likely to get everything they desire, but that each is more likely to get more of what they want if they pursue a mutually-beneficial result. If the other party isn’t willing to agree to that, the negotiation is going to be more protracted and adversarial. The good news is that the number of people to whom winning is more important than getting a reasonable solution is very small. 

For you

When a conflict between individual rights and society’s rights surfaces, remember Spock’s admonition: the good of the many outweigh the good of the few.

When involved in a conflict between individual rights, put yourself in the role of the other party. Discover the legitimacy of their claims. It’ll help you understand where they’re coming from and how to structure your proposals to meet their needs while getting what you desire as well…knowing that neither of you is likely to get everything you want.

Before submitting proposals to the other party, get an agreement that neither is likely to get everything they want, but that you’ll both get more from a collaborative approach…including a mutually-beneficial, long-term relationship. Then pursue areas upon which you and the other party can agree. As agreements are reached, the desire to continue collaborating increases while the desire to be “right” declines.

For our kids

As you see your kids get caught up in conflicts about rights, share with them your approach to dealing with conflicting rights. They’ll not only learn to respect others’ rights as well as their own, they’ll become more adept at dealing with conflict. 

Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your thoughts in a comment.

If you’d like to enjoy great confidence, check out our Confidence Self-Study programs (opens in a new link). 

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2 Responses

  1. bill prenatt

    Dale, I so much admire and respect the deep thoughts that you have about every day issues.

    Unfortunately, I experience the behaviors that you describe all too often. My observation is that people have become more selfish and self centered. Less interested in my needs, especially if it means that the other person might not get what they think they want and need,

    I try to avoid these situations by being more curious, asking better questions, and truly listening to the other person’s point of view.

    I don’t know if it works but I sure do feel better 🙂

    Behavior seems to be like a pendulum, swinging from one extrme to the other. Mayve we can find a mid-point that isn’t so extreme.

    • dfurtwengler

      Bill, knowing you, if you feel better odds are the other person (people) are feeling better as well. It’s your nature. Behavior is indeed a pendulum as evidenced throughout human history. Unfortunately the times spent at the mid-points are all too brief. While this is the reality we face, we can ameliorate the situation through consistent and persistent actions on our part to live contrary to where we find ourselves in the other areas of the pendulum’s motion. By living the message in this post we give others an opportunity to see how much more successful this behavior is than what they are currently employing. I know you’ll keep living this message as you have throughout your life. Thank you for that…and your always insightful comments.

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