I spend a fair bit of time pondering the relationship of rights to interests and interests to rights. At present I’m thinking about how the cooperative process of mediation accommodates the often competitive claiming of individual rights. So I tweeted, then thought some more.
I think of rights as positional, as prescribed; as often demanded and as often enforced. In my experience when rights clash they compete then sometimes capitulate into compromise. To me, rights belong in settlement conferences and courts. Settlement conferences compromise; courts pronounce winners and losers.
In Australia we are fortunate that each of our individual rights is an entitlement. I hear rights as being self-focussed and immutable: “I have a right to …” to me, are right without the responsibility to uphold others’ rights, often sounds aggressive. Responsibilities, sometimes in the form of obligations, sometimes at our discretion bring perspective to the idea of rights. Responsibilities are other-focussed and situational. “I have a responsibility toward … ” Whether or not I carry out my responsibilities, your rights remain your rights, a responsibility of the State if it comes to enforcement.
For example, I, like others, have the right to cultural expression. When there are sufficient resources for all of our expressions of culture to take place, life is calm. When people’s expressions of culture require scarce resources, as they realistically do, rights may clash. Then there becomes a need for a resolution. If the resolution is that I accommodate the rights of someone else in a compromise, I experience a brittle relationship.
If, on the other hand, I explore what’s important to me about my rights and what’s important to them about their rights, instead of just accommodating someone else, I generally find there are some possibilities for each of us.
Here’s a more specific example. It concerns the buying of a bed with a partner. It’s my right to a good night’s sleep; it’s their right to a good nights sleep. I like a soft mattress; they like a hard mattress. We compromise and get a medium mattress. Neither of us gets a good night’s sleep. Tensions rise. So then we get on to figuring out what is important to each of us (comfort, compatibility, knowing the other is comfortable etc etc) then exploring possibilities: separate beds, overlays, underlays, separate mattresses zipped together; separate mattresses with overlays … and so it goes on until we reach satisfactory arrangement.