Rights vs responsibity

Johan van Zyl,
Gordon’s Bay

The often vaunted expression “It’s better to give than to receive” has set me thinking.

A purely humanistic reaction to such a pronouncement, is to question the sense of it. What could be “better” than giving to others what is yours?

And surely, to receive other people’s belongings without the obligation of repayment, is not something to be refused.

What spurred me to think further is the possibility of a correlation of some kind between this expression and the worrying escalation of violent protests country-wide.

It seems as if greater numbers of people have of late been clambering onto the protest bandwagon, in the belief that something not needing to be paid for, will magically emanate from their efforts.

These protesters believe their efforts are honourable, even though they will – albeit grudgingly – acknowledge that criminally-minded individuals are in their sidelines, looking for opportunities to take advantage of the situation.

It is easy for protest leaders to underplay these “unintended consequences” in their quest for what they believe to be the greater good.

Underlying all these mass action demonstrations is the urge to obtain what they feel is their due, to wit: the rights that have been given them through legislation over the years. The cry goes up: “You, the government must give! Give us land, give us houses, gives us free education, give us grants!”

A question: Is it not true of human nature that if you tell a person many times over that it is his unalienable right to be afforded a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, that such a person will feel entitled to those benefits?

The inevitability of this is a culture of entitlement, and this is what we have been seeing for some time.

All manner of historic injustices are dragged out of storage, dusted off and polished for all to see. Then it is used as justification for all manner of delinquency and under-performance, political and otherwise.

The fact that the expression “It’s better to give than to receive” has a Biblical origin (Acts 20:35) is scant consolation to a corruption-stricken municipality faced with stone throwing, tyre-burning mobs of delinquent citizens fighting for service delivery.

I have never been very enthusiastic about human rights around every corner, with the exception of those like the right to life and protection from slavery and torture. I feel that it would be better if, instead of pandering incessantly about rights, we could rather focus on responsibilities.

The “me-me-me” entitlement generation could then evolve into what I believe is a more honourable “you-you-you” generation wherein people on the street and those in government could consider ways of serving the community at large as well as the country as a whole, instead of clamouring for worldly things to come their way.

With rights, the focus is on receiving.

With responsibilities, there is a whole new focus. It is on giving.

Give your voters the voice they have entrusted to you as their representative.

Give your employer the assurance that he can rely on you. Give your money regularly in payment of your accounts. Give your time and energy in cleaning up the litter on your sidewalk. Give your vote during elections.

Give your donations to worthy causes of your choice. Give your obedience to the laws of the country. Give your vigilance where you detect injustices. This list could go on and on.

It is so different from a list of things one feels one should get, which one is not getting.

With responsibilities and the resultant focus on giving, the expression “giving is better than receiving” makes much more sense.