Rights, Responsibilities and Freedom

question-1422600_1920By Linda Fisher Thornton

While some people think of rights, responsibilities and freedom separately, in a compartmentalized way, I believe they cannot be separated. According to John Courtney Murray, freedom was always intended to be grounded in ethical values.

“Freedom was not conceived in terms of the sheer subjective autonomy of the will. Man’s freedom, like man himself, stood within the moral universe. It meant the objective right to act; it meant what Acton defined as “the right to do what one ought.”

John Courtney Murray, S.J., Freedom, Responsibility, and the Law, Woodstock Theological Library, Georgetown University

All Three Concepts Are Morally Defined

Here is an excerpt from a previous post I wrote that addresses the relationship between rights and responsibilities: 

“Can rights and responsibilities be separated? Clearly they are both part of good citizenship and ethical leadership. But what happens if we try to separate them? If we demand our rights but fail to live up to our responsibilities, we will have a negative impact on others. 

If we assert individual rights without also taking responsibility, we are asking for more than we are willing to give. We are conveying that what we want is more important than what others want. We are demanding that our needs be met without caring about what happens to others.

Under those circumstances the answer to “Can rights and responsibilities be separated?” is ‘Yes, but not ethically.'”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Leaders: Can Rights and Responsibilities Be Separated?,  Leading in Context Blog

All three concepts – rights, responsibilities and freedom, fall within what John Courtney Murray called “the moral universe.” To be whole, then, arguments advocating rights and freedoms must include a willingness to take responsibility. As ethical leaders, we need to talk about them as a “package deal” to ensure that we are always taking responsibility for our actions. 

 

 

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About Linda Fisher Thornton
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context, and author of the award-winning book 7 Lenses. She teaches as Adjunct Assoc. Prof. for University of Richmond SPCS. She is leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.

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