These magic words written in the Declaration of Independence have been read, said and heard many times over: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — with “all men” now interpreted as “all people.”
Enjoyment of the rights carries with it responsibilities to live life without interference in the enjoyment of the same rights as other people. Everyone shall have the opportunity to pursue their hopes and aspirations.
Whether you like or dislike another person because of nationality, race, skin color, religion, wealth or lack thereof does not matter. Rights with responsibilities require respect for self, respect for others and the property of others. Rights and responsibilities are in balance.
With mutual respect for our fellow humans and their property, and civility in our relations with one another, each of us may enjoy our rights together. Doing this is not complicated. It means meeting and greeting another person as though you are meeting and greeting yourself — two human beings doing their best to cope with life in a nonthreatening way.
Immediately, differences between humans vanish. Nationality, race, skin color, religion and measure of wealth are of no consequence.
The concept of rights with responsibilities takes precedence. The mantras of “me first” and “my rights are paramount to yours” are replaced with the golden rule: “Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you.”
Respect and civility will allow for differences of opinion to be expressed in nonthreatening and nonviolent ways.
Unfortunately, rights without responsibilities have come to the fore in our country. Language and actions that glorify lack of respect and incivility have insidiously become the norm.
Thus society experiences violence resulting from pent-up anger, destruction of property, looting and injury to fellow human beings.
Under the guise of entertainment, certain movies, videos, games and some media outlets — invited into our homes via electronic devices — deliver smut and encourage poor behavior and appalling language that undermine respect and civility.
The right to operate a vehicle is granted through licensing standards. That right is accompanied by an obligation to drive responsibly. Exercising that right without responsibility results in hit-and-run accidents, intoxicated and reckless drivers, speeders in residential neighborhoods and excessive vehicle-associated noise, plus more.
Rights without responsibilities leads to parental failure to require a child’s cooperation in school; domestic violence; missing fathers; abuse of children; non-cooperation with guidelines for COVID-19 control; theft and various forms of deceit.
Consequently, laws and ordinances are necessary to protect people who are respectful and civil with their interactions with others from those who do not. The imbalance between rights and responsibilities has brought our society to its current state of affairs — chaos.
Rights without responsibilities require society to have law enforcement tasked with maintaining a semblance of peace so that all members of society can pursue their dreams and aspirations for life, liberty and happiness.
The most calloused example of disrespect, incivility and the “me first” syndrome is a government that allows killing the child in the womb at anytime during pregnancy. (The ultimate hypocrisy is that same government looks upon the killing of a woman and child in her womb as the murder of two.)
Data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that in the U.S. there are about 3.8 million live births per year. The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute tells us that there are about 862,000 abortions per year.
Societal obsession with individual rights means that about 20% of the lives of the next generation are expendable.
Worse yet is there are some among us who hold the view that in or out of the womb, a child’s life is of no consequence because the child has not yet proven its value.
Societal ills now lead us to be in contradiction with words written in the Declaration of Independence as stated in the first paragraph.
The simple solution to this state of affairs is threefold: respect for self, respect for others and civility with inter-human relations.
The challenge lies with each of us to do our part.
Daniel T. Fritsch is a Lancaster native. He is retired from Lancaster Catholic High School, where he taught mathematics for 33 years.