Rights or responsibilities: which come first?

Living as a child in a home where our parents are bitterly divided, aren’t speaking, aren’t listening, or where they are just shouting and blaming in anger can be terribly difficult. And where there’s a house full of guns? Well, that can be downright unsafe.

Some of you may know what that’s like from having personally lived such a scenario when you were a child.

Chances are if this was ever your life growing up, you know the feelings of helplessness and worry that came with your family lifestyle. And even if that was never your family, you may have known or at least heard of other families like this and felt your own lower grade helplessness and worry.

So now take that family situation and multiply it out millions of times and you have life today in these United States of America. Consider the lives of kids in that kind of a family and you now understand what it’s like for all of us as citizens of this nation in 2018.

And guess what that means?

It means, after throwing in the presence of guns inside millions of homes, we can’t expect to have a normal citizenship any more than children in such families can expect to have a normal childhood. Compared to citizens of other countries, we can expect to have more health problems, both psychological and organic, more education problems with lower test scores in school, and more acting out of aggressive impulses in the community. We have all of these as a nation in relation to many other nations. And we should not wonder why.

As a retired therapist who used to work with many sick families and marriages, I can tell you there is hope. The future can be better than the present. In my own past, it was not uncommon to find that the unbearable lives of the children themselves would lead to at least one of them doing something that landed the whole family in counseling. A family crisis would begin with the kids. Only then would the family enter treatment and begin resolving their horrible dysfunction.

Today our kids, most notably the kids surviving the February 14th crisis we now call “Parkland” are on the march to find a family therapist for us all as citizens of the United States. And we owe it to ourselves as well as them to join them in this noble quest.

Part of the problem in dysfunctional families, and larger societies such as the USA, is we don’t discuss functional topics. We only discuss those things that expose our dysfunction. Here’s an example: we talk about freedoms and rights. Or, more to the point, about my freedoms and my rights. Such conversations expose our dysfunction. So what else is there to talk about?

Perhaps we can try starting with a conversation about responsibilities. And before getting to my responsibilities, suppose we consider ours as a nation. Suppose we drop the “my rights” for awhile and try to figure out “our responsibilities” for once. Do we have any? If so, what are they? If not, then how can we expect to ever have “my freedoms” happen?

Freedoms do not drop out of some magical tree in the forest. Rather they grow up out of the ground of responsibility. Some responsibilities are ours and some are mine. Conservatives are very functional when it comes to counting up personal responsibilities. They are right to hold us all accountable for these. Liberals are very functional when it comes to counting up social responsibilities. They are right to hold us all accountable for these. And out of a national conversation around this functional topic of responsibility, I wonder if we might reach some common understanding of both “ours” and “mine” for a change. And if such a change were possible, I wonder if we might then find ourselves receiving those freedoms and rights we all care so much about in the first place.

Until then, well, let us at least take pity upon each other as citizens instead of fighting each other here at home. For we are all really like siblings growing up in a home where our parents are bitterly divided, aren’t speaking, aren’t listening, are instead shouting and blaming in anger. And where there’s a house full of guns.