Rights and Responsibilities

by Martin Poehler

Recently the British Government announced it was scrapping it's old National Health Service Patients' Charter and drafting a new one. A new charter was deemed necessary because patients who thought they understood their rights under the current charter were abusing and assaulting hospital staff when the patients felt their rights weren't being met. The emphasis in the new charter will be that patients have responsibilities as well as rights. It will seek to point out that damage is done to others when patients act inconsiderately. Among other things, the new charter will emphasize the need for patients to be on time for appointments, and for patients to allow emergency patients to go before them, even if this makes it impossible for the hospital to keep its commitment to see every patient within 15 minutes.

The Importance of Our Responsibilites

One of the points the new Patients' Charter highlights is that life in society today goes on in an orderly way when there is a right relationship between rights and responsibilities. For the National Health Service to work well patients' rights need to be respected and met. But patients also need to be responsible, by being willing to let other patients with life-threatening injuries go before them in the waiting room queue. The good that often comes when responsibilities supersede rights can be seen throughout society.

For example, a father may feel he has a right to a good night's sleep. But he voluntarily gives up this right when he has a sick child who needs his caring attention. In many ways such as this one, performing our responsibilities and voluntarily deferring our rights brings stability, graciousness, and dignity to society. Meeting our responsibilities in this way is really just expressing love to others.

Expressing Love vs. Meeting Our Own Needs

Many people today believe acting and thinking lovingly towards others is right, while acting and thinking unlovingly towards others is wrong. However, despite this widely-held belief, in many ways the world doesn't seem to have enough love -- but seems filled instead with hatred and selfishness. We see the truth in the old song that goes, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It's the only thing that there's just too little of." Most of us believe "loving your neighbour as yourself" is right, and it should be expressed in a visible, practical way. But in everyday life love isn't often expressed -- at least, not as often as we think it should be. We feel the world is not as good a place as it could be because not enough love is being shown to others.

Why is this? I think part of it is that we see life as "dog-eat-dog." It seems we feel we have to press for our rights, or our competitors will defeat us and we won't have the money we need to stay alive. We notice other people who are in need, and our hearts go out to them. But we sometimes think, "I can't afford the time or the money to help them. I have enough to do just to take care of myself! Who, after all, will meet my material needs and pay for my retirement if I get involved helping others?" In the world, it seems to be every-man-for-himself. Our need to provide for ourself seems to prevent us from helping many others in need we'd like to help. Sometimes we notice a general harshness in the world as everyone seems to be looking out for themselves, and nobody helps anyone else except out of self-interest.

Is There Any Backup Help?

I think part of the reason people press so hard for their rights, causing a hardness to come into life today, is that they feel if their own efforts fail to provide what they need and desire in life, there is no backup help for them. Most people don't believe in a God who is all-powerful and all-loving. Believing in this kind of God seems old-fashioned and narrow-minded today. Because many don't think there is a God who is able and wants to care for them, these people are left only with their own resources to rely upon. If these resources fail them, these people believe there is no other power or person who can help them achieve these goals.

But wouldn't it be marvellous if there was a God who could help people and wanted to help them? Think of how it would change our lives if there was an all-seeing, all-loving, all-powerful God who held the world together. He could meet our needs, so we wouldn't have to worry about them. There would be some ease in our lives as we knew that someone who was powerful was helping us_instead of the pressure we sometimes feel because we seem to be thrashing it out in the world on our own. We wouldn't have to press so hard for our rights to be met. An all-powerful God would aid us to make sure we got what we really needed. We would be free to help others more, as we now often feel we should be doing. In addition, this God could himself directly meet the needs of these other people. And if it were possible that this God chose to reveal himself to us, we could even get to know him and communicate with him. What a lightness all of these things would bring into our lives, and possibly into the lives of others as well!

But is what I've just described the truth? Is there a supernatural being who is all-powerful, and who actually cares about us? Does someone who has great power see us, and want to help us and others in our daily lives? If a God like this exists, the implications for our lives are staggering. It would free us from the tension that sometimes comes because we feel we have nobody to rely on for our needs but ourselves. It would also free us to perform new responsibilities, to help others where it is possible and appropriate. It's of great importance for each of us to search for and find out the answers to these questions-and then each live our life according to the answers we have found.

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