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Opinion

When Civil Society Declines Due to Individuals' Rights

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Here is a tough question: Should individuals’ rights be allowed to erode civil society? Some groups in America have been founded on a noble purpose–to preserve the rights of the individual. What happens, however, when preserving the rights of the individual contributes to the erosion of society?

Under the guise of free speech and individual rights, some organizations defend those who keep pushing the envelope of crassness and vulgarity for publicity and profit. What if tens of thousands of budding songwriters begin to emulate the worst of rap videos? What if everyone decides to create horrific, violent, titillating, misogynistic videos?

What if everyone sports tattoos on their arms, backs, and shoulders, or wears nose rings, eyebrow rings, and nipple rings? Such behavior doesn’t clog our roadways, and is a matter of individual choice, so what harm does it cause to society?

Not Just the Hospital Emergency Room

Apart from the health aspects of body piercings (data indicate a sizable number of participants experience serious infection and hepatitis), they pose problems of safety to both the individual indulging in the behavior and to others nearby. What happens when such rings catch on clothes, switches, buttons, or technological gadgets? As a society, do we accept visitors to hospital emergency rooms on Saturday nights whose body piercings have resulted in serious health conditions?

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Since taxpayer dollars fund healthcare services for many, including expensive emergency room visits, the negative health impacts of certain behaviors incur a direct cost to all citizens. Likewise, we pay social costs when crudity is broadcast to us and to our children.

Vulgar public speech and potentially health-damaging body piercings might be permissible free speech, but are they therefore desirable? In our evermore-interconnected existence, individual choices have vast impacts on others.

Do you think that talk show guests discussing topics like leniency for incest and infidelity understand the ramifications of their behavior? What if everyone they know and you know did what they suggest? Would relationships break down? Would families fracture? Within a single generation, would all of society break down?

The Real Impact

The idea of expanding what we do, and surmising what effect it would have if it were socially pervasive behavior, yields a hands-on realization: What we do and how we behave is important. So is what our neighbors do and how they behave.

Generally, the more densely populated your town, the more vital it is to recognize that your behavior  impacts those around you. If you live in a suburban setting, where farm animals are otherwise few and far between, but choose to house a rooster in your backyard, your choice most definitely impacts people all around you.

Perhaps a neighbor gets off the late shift at 2 a.m. and needs to be sound asleep… while you bird starts crowing at 5:30 a.m. …every morning. The zoning laws of your town might state that it’s legal for you to house a rooster in your backyard. As such, is exercising your right conducive to harmonious relations with your neighbors?

My Opinion and You’re Welcome

Suppose you feel strongly about a political issue and post signs facing the street in your living room window. As you become more vigilant, you place a sign on your porch. Later, you place some signs on your lawn. Perhaps you’ve adorned your car bumper stickers with highly politicized messages.

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The above actions likely are within your legal rights. Is your free expression, however, undermining the peace and tranquility in your otherwise quiet neighborhood? Suppose you’re a Democrat and your signs rankle neighborhood Republicans. Suppose the opposite is true. Do you not have other forums in which to express yourself?

What if your neighbor across the street is perturbed by your partisan display and responds in kind with his own set of banners, signs, and bumper stickers? Have the two of you improved the neighborhood? What if everyone in the neighborhood starts up? How long will it be before signs disappear as opposing neighbors start pilfering from each other?

Abandoning Reason

Merely because you have a right to express yourself, in this manner or in that, doesn’t mean you ought to or that it’s advisable. Free expression, without any regard to context and greater ramifications, can undermine a neighborhood, as it can undermine a society.

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About the Author:
Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" and the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information.




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