rights and privileges

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Yesterday, I found myself in the midst of a group of people anxious to see Bernie Sanders #RunBernieRun for 2020. They had gathered at a local bar to watch a livestream hosted by a grassroots entity,  Organizing For Bernie. They happily stayed to converse afterward.

What struck me about this gathering of mostly strangers was the gentle positivity, openness to ideas, and compassionate acceptance of others – traits I don’t often witness anymore in even remotely political discourse.

These folks easily hung around together for an engaging discussion that roamed far and wide, touching on topics ranging from Flint’s water to the concept of “rights and privileges.” The thoughtful and wonderfully intelligent conversation was a breath of fresh air. The talk focused on issues, very little on candidates or parties.

The discourse waded into the rights and privileges territory as participants explored healthcare issues. One person firmly took the stance that healthcare is a right not a privilege; another easily responded that they were not convinced that is the case. It was great to see all of the people in the group comfortably exploring this. There was no anger, no shame, no bullying, no dares, no put-downs, no unthinking repetition of shallow memes, just an honest and curious discussion turning the ideas over.

Much later, I found that discussion burbling in my brain – not exactly whether healthcare is a right or a privilege, but how we view and come to define rights and privileges.

The more I turned the topic over in my head, the more I realized it is just a matter of the lens through which we look at things. If we look at healthcare or water, for example, through the lens of capitalism, it’s about the price of things. It’s about who’s paying and how much. It’s about who owns it and how much benefit they receive from that ownership. It’s about one’s ability to pay, or whether they have to pay for someone else.

It’s really not a question of right or privilege – it’s just dollars and cents, the bottom line. Healthcare is simply a commodity. Life-saving drugs are commodities. Water is a commodity. Education, imprisonment, the ballot are commodities. Even war – life and death – is a commodity. It’s just about who’s going to pay and for whom. 

It is very natural to look at it through this lens; indeed, it is difficult to see it any other way. 

But there is another way. We can look through the lens of compassion. Our ingrained capitalist way of life has no room for compassion, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t or can’t be there. The question of right or privilege just serves to keep us off topic.

The very concept of “rights” implies a moral underpinning. We needn’t, we shouldn’t, shy away from our innate morality in order to accommodate a system and those reaping its profits. Denying our own very real ethics in subordination to that system is inherently unfree and inhumane – and we do it all the time without blinking. It drives us to ask such unthinkable questions as whether access to healthcare or potable water is a right or a privilege.

Most people I meet have a great deal of compassion, even if it masked by a stubborn allegiance to soulless concepts, leadership, and acts. It is human, it is life, to hold compassion.

Let’s find our way back to being the whole people that we are, not just citizens, taxpayers, workers. Let us radically allow compassion to help us determine our direction. Let us factor compassion into the most practical decisions of our society.

Let us worry less about defining rights and privileges under the gaze of the capitalist god, and look more to what’s simply best for all. Everyone’s boat will float higher when we do that.

2 thoughts on “rights and privileges

  1. We are more than our roles. In fact we define our roles. But most people have a hard time changing their lens (that come with the roles). It takes awareness and courage to detach from what is comfortable and be open to something new. In other words, willingness to be vulnerable.
    Thanks for sharing.

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