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Difference Between Rights and Responsibilities

english wordsRights vs. Responsibilities

There is a common misconception about the interpretation of rights and responsibilities. At first glance, it would seem that the two terms are interchangeable. However, they are not. There are in fact several distinct differences between the two terms, which include legal determinations, and moral or ethical standards.

Rights are predominately privileges granted to individuals by governing bodies, and are generally written into laws. For example, in a Democratic country, the government may grant all of its people the ‘right’ to choose their own government by voting (exercising your franchise). Likewise, a government may write into law the ‘right’ to (exercise) free speech. Similarly, governments may grant ‘rights’ to individuals for more intangible things, like literary or artistic works(copyrights). Rights may also be granted on an individual or unique basis, by other governing bodies, like employers or partners through the mechanism of contracts. All such rights are built into a legal framework that allow them to be defended or challenged in a court of law.

It is important to remember that rights are granted based on an agreed set of behaviors and obligations, with the expectation of mutual respect and cooperation. A right, therefore, is not just a law that allows individuals or governing bodies to do or say anything they wish. It is the foundation or framework on which society as a whole structures and defines itself. Every right manifests itself through a series of obligations or duties that flow outward from the central law, like ripples on water. It is these obligations or duties that we commonly refer to as responsibilities.

Responsibility can be as limited to a list of duties assigned by an employer. It can also be broad, and morally or ethically accountable within the greater society. Responsibility can be assigned to an individual (your job description), or assumed by an individual (I broke it). It can be applied to an individual (the safe operation of a motor vehicle), or implied in the broader context of societal behavior (your children’s behavior). Whether in contractual law or social behavior, without responsibility nothing would ever be accomplished. Both right and responsibility exist in a symbiotic relationship that cannot be severed.

In summary:

1. A right is a privilege granted by a governing body that is written into law.

2. A right can be defended or challenged in a court of law.

3. A responsibility is a duty or obligation that is accepted, or put into action.


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