Rights and responsibilities

rights and responsibilities
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Everybody head cyaan just hot suh. Yuh kill one suh you fren wah match yuh… — Prodigal


It’s time we all understood that when we live in community, individual action is not an isolated event. There are times when acting, or reacting, based on our individual rights is the most irresponsible thing to do. This is particularly so when those actions or reactions espouse or embrace violence.

For example, all citizens have the right, the personal authority of freedom of choice to speak what’s on their mind. However, it is irresponsible for one to do so if the speech is inflammatory and liable to cause mayhem and death. We even have the right to feel the desire, out of anger, to kill — especially if life is threatened. However, it is irresponsible to allow your feelings to cause you to take a life, especially if in doing so it could result in many more being killed.

Rights, unbridled as they are, must operate within the confines of community. The United States of America, for example, gives its citizens the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; however, if an American’s pursuit of happiness involves treasonous actions that very nation that allows even libertine rights will disallow the pursuit, and even put him or her to death.

When living in community a citizen does not have the right to do as he wishes. For his rights and authority must be limited by the detrimental consequences his speech or actions could cause on the community. No matter how justified your anger or desire is, in community it must be controlled.


Case in point #1: Taximan vs JUTC driver

Two men — a Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) driver and a route taxi driver — lacking self-control and reverence for life, recently shut down our public transport system, some schools and workplaces, our church night service, and radio programme. Their irresponsible temper tantrum resulted in the death of the taxi driver.

There were also myriad other effects resulting from their lack of conflict resolution strategies. These range from a strike by the taxi drivers on the route, inconveniencing many commuters, to the alleged death of an innocent JUTC driver uninvolved in the altercation, but allegedly killed in retaliation.

Friends and cronies of the taximan displayed to our nation that the issue of lack of self-control was not an anomaly endemic to the two original combatants. They reportedly began fulfilling a vow to kill four colleagues of the fighting JUTC driver. They were successful in one driver at the time of writing. They allegedly also turned the anger on one of their own who disobeyed the strike call.

Had we been able to get to both men involved in the original altercation before death came into the picture they each, perhaps, would have been able to loudly argue their rights in the matter. Now, in the aftermath, after all that has consequently transpired, the question ‘who was right?’ seems a moot point.

American civil rights activist Fred Hampton said it well: “We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water.” The Bible said it best when it said, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:15)

We who understand and follow that Bible mantra must help others do the same. Otherwise, anarchy will overtake us; where every man will do what’s right in his own eyes. That’s a recipe for an ungovernable nation. Perhaps it’s time to recognise that this JUTC driver vs taximan altercation is a wake-up call for us all. We, as leaders of people, groups and communities, must come together and resolutely transform this ‘hot head’ issue in our society. Everybody head cyaan jus hot suh!

Church, take the lead on this one, nuh?

Violence is the natural fruit of selfishness and a preoccupation with a desire to have personal feelings, preferences, and so-called rights supersede the rights of community. Violent self-interest is fast driving and dominating our culture.

Violence has become a default response for too many in the simplest of situations. Conflict-resolving mechanisms, such as peace, mercy and justice, have been replaced with violence, violence and more violence in our homes, schools and communities. This must be addressed with transformational urgency!

We have not come to this state overnight. It is a direct result of the brand of politics that divided the nation for self-interest, breeding the seeds of violence now maturing. Our politicians, all 63 sitting in Parliament (and the few who have recently left it), should be ashamed to be presiding over such a nation they have created. They should be embarrassed to tell anybody that they ruled or are ruling over a socially and morally decaying nation, evidenced by a culture of violence with its twin sister corruption.

Prime Minister, as the present leader, you have to move to reverse it. You have to do it on behalf of all your fellow politicians in both parties. You have to do it for your Jamaican people. You have to do it for the God of love who has given you the privilege to lead at this time; to lead our nation into her finest hour, building the new Jamaica. You cannot be proud to lead a people whose head “hot so”’. This has to be placed as a deliberate priority on your good governance programme.


Case in point #2: Mayor & gay rights

The Gleaner of September 13 reported on this matter in our western city. The headline read: “No Pride — MoBay mayor shuts door on gay rights group to protect ‘sacredness’ of cultural centre’.

The accompanying report stated that, “Montego Bay Mayor Homer Davis says the gay rights group Montego Bay Pride will not be granted permission to use the Montego Bay Cultural Centre for a series of events it is planning to stage in the western city.”

The issue concerned a gay rights group who wanted to use the town cultural centre for one of its events. The report went on to quote the mayor as saying: “I am not opposed if Montego Bay Pride wishes to have an event to promote same-sex marriage, but I believe it should not be held at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre.”

The mayor’s reasoning was that, “Allowing such an event would breach the municipal corporation’s mandate to uphold Jamaica’s Constitution, which only recognises marriage between a man and a woman.”

In our quickly developing libertine society he was castigated by many, but he stood his ground. I have a liking for people who stand up for truth, even when they come under fire for it. I am always encouraged to see leaders with backbone who are bold enough to take a clear position on issues.

Leaders must learn to stand for what they believe to be right, even in the face of difficulty and naysayers who may carry their belief system and agenda. And, particularly so when the issue moves beyond just likes and dislikes, but involves an issue of rights and justice.

There seems to be a growing number of people who separate rights from the issue of justice, rather than accepting that rights in a just society must fit within a framework that ensures justice is being done.

This mayor vs gay rights issue brought again to our collective national consciousness the problem with gay rights individuals. They have the right of choice to whatever they desire and the authority like any other citizen to make requests of Government. But, in community, one’s authority is limited and governed by the agreed norms of the society.

The mayor was right in taking the stance that he did. A supporting local government councillor put it correctly when he said: “We, as a government agency, must ensure that we uphold the Constitution of Jamaica and, in upholding the constitution, why would we engage a building controlled by the municipal corporation to be used to hold a function to promote same-sex marriage? It is not consistent with the mandate that we have,” Charles Sinclair said.

Rights must operate within the confines of community. We must allow total freedom for individual rights, but individuals will always be limited in authority. Justice must keep the balance; a prerogative we have given to government. Justice must ensure personal rights are not violated, while ensuring personal rights are not forced on community.

Noted Russian novelist and human rights activist Aleksandr I Solzhenitsyn, musing on this topic, wrote: “Human rights are a fine thing, but how can we make ourselves sure that our rights do not expand at the expense of the rights of others?”

Here’s my answer to his question: Should you ever find your rights and choices in conflict with community, should you ever be faced with a situation where the exercise of your rights can be detrimental to community, make the mature decision to choose responsible speech and actions over self-serving rights and desires. For true love is not self-seeking or self-serving. It always seeks the interest of others.

Copyright © 2019 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.

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