There is a lot in the media at the moment about rights.
There are almost daily stories of people refusing to recognise restrictions about crossing state or regional borders, wearing masks in public places (Victoria) etc.
Do you have a right to not wear a mask? David Estcourt, SMH, July 2020
Can police detain people for breaches of government directions? Do Victorians have legally enforceable civil rights not to wear a mask?
A woman not wearing a mask approaches a staff member greeting customers at a suburban Bunnings. The staff member asks the woman if she has a mask, which she says she does not. She is asked to speak with a manager. She says the store is discriminating against her. She says she can personally sue the two staff members who are calmly stating the store’s policy: you can’t shop at Bunnings if you’re not wearing a face mask.
The narrative of these stories is often about the presumed rights of the individual to do what they believe is right for them. It is at this point that the concepts of rights and responsibilities clash.
Rights and responsibilities help make our communities better. Rights are freedoms we have that are protected by our laws, while responsibilities are duties or things that we should do. In order to be good citizens, or members of a community, we must understand both our rights and our responsibilities. In the stories so common today, some people are shown to have a fixation with “my rights” and believe that these are inviolate. Are they correct?
I believe citizenship requires that we think before we act and that we ask ourselves some questions. Like, whose well-being and rights will I be trampling on if I assert my supposed rights in some reckless, dangerous way? Questions like:
- Are my rights to travel, party and join a crowd more important than the right of a person who might be immuno-compromised to stay healthy and free from potential COVID infection?
- Are my rights to travel, party and join a crowd more important than the right to work for those whose livelihood will be shattered by another lockdown?
- In times of crisis are there “rights” that I should be prepared to give up so that others are safe?
- Does my right to free speech allow me to utter hurtful, derogatory and damaging words to or about other people?
The pandemic is showing that a rights-obsessed society with insufficient regard for members’ mutual responsibilities is a prescription that most likely will lead to conflict, chaos, and dysfunction. We need to institute a new age: An age where rights and responsibility find a balance that will allow us to be fully realised both as individuals and as members of our communities.
Schools have long been at the forefront of the rights-responsibilities intersection.
In case anybody is unclear about our expectations of our students (formalised in the enrolment contract) they can be simplified to requirements that they:
- Behave in a positive manner that contributes to the learning of fellow students, does not disrupt the learning of students and enables teachers to teach in an atmosphere of cooperation;
- Take responsibility for their learning; and
- Use the resources and teachers of the School to facilitate and support their learning.
Our expectations of the type of students who graduate from St Columba are also clear:
St Columba Graduates will:
- Display, by their words and actions, a positive, Christian view of the world and their place in it.
- Understand that while they should be valued as an individual, their willingness to serve their community, now and in the future, will be a key to their continued growth.
- Have been shaped by the ethos and actions of the school and in turn, have played a role in the evolution of the school community towards greatness.
- Have been offered access to an education that not only allowed them to reach their academic potential but also provided them with the access to the knowledge and skills required to successfully enter the next phase of their lives as lifelong learners who are erudite, optimistic and disciplined.
- Understand the vital nature of change in the world and are prepared to face this reality with confidence and resilience.
- Be exposed to and given the opportunity to develop such 21st Century skills as agility, creativity and an ability to work collaboratively with others.
- Have developed leadership skills so that by their great and small actions, they will have the potential to make the world a better place.
Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School