We Can, But Should We?
By Bart Vogelzang

We all have rights of some kind or another, even in the most repressive states, but we really need to think about exercising those rights. There is something sometimes called ‘the greater good’, or ‘social responsibility’, which should be considered before taking that step towards using a right.

At the simplest level, we can do what we darned well please if we have the physical ability, and our actions will have one or more of a variety of consequences. Someone is negatively affected, someone is positively affected, we ourselves are negatively affected, we ourselves are positively affected, the environment is negatively or positively affected, or it is all a complete neutral wash.

Let’s imagine you are about to go through a door, and someone else walks up to it, slightly later than you. You can hold the door open for the person, letting them enter before or after you, or you can just let the door close in front of them. You have the ability and right to do either, but for the very slight inconvenience (negative personal consequence) of holding open the door, you are applying social responsibility and creating a positive consequence for the other person. In fact, the other person may thank you for your kindness and create a positive consequence for you, with little negative consequence for him or her. Effectively you have increased the greater good. Now picture the opposite decision, in which you, quite validly, allow the door to shut in the other person’s face. A very minor benefit to you, in the saving of a few seconds at most, results in a much larger negative for the other person, in having to open the door completely, if not actually remove their face from the dirt encrusted door after doing an unexpected face plant. Irritation follows, and he or she might even make a rude comment at you. Definitely the greater good is not in play here, and social responsibility was left at the door, literally.

You spot an empty soda can on a retaining wall; and you grab it, with immediate positive consequences for the environment, and delayed positives for yourself in the form of the eco deposit. Nobody is negatively affected.

You chuck your banana peel on the floor of a store, and in so doing you have negatively affected other people with a slipping hazard, the environment, the store’s insurance policy, and for what; a moment of your time to drop it in a can. That was socially reprehensible and most certainly not for the greater good.

But we function in a complex society, and so the simplest levels are exactly that, simple decisions. What happens when someone sues another for perceived insults? What happens when we lie, or even accidentally pass on information that is not accurate, or simply misconstrue? Much like our ‘simple’ examples, there are consequences, but they radiate outwards to a much greater degree, affecting more people and in unexpected, irrational, or bizarre ways.

Let’s take the example of using the right to free speech, and look at the situation when the Westboro Baptist Church pickets the funerals of fallen US Servicemen because they illogically claim that “God Hates Fags”. The immediately obvious negative impacts are against those who are there to mourn the dearly departed loved one, but there are secondary negatives in that the whole LGBTQ community is offended, not to mention those in the Services. Each of those groups and individuals feel they need to respond in some way, often with counter picketing, and sometimes with the seeking of court injunctions. Those will also generate their own negatives, and the court action leads to less time and energy being spent on dealing with the criminal element. Furthermore, it also leads some to question the right to free speech as a basic right, which is also a negative consequence of using the right indiscriminately. Even those who believe the same as do the WBC members, will feel negative consequences as people begin to ‘tar’ each Christian group with the same brush. There seems to be a disproportionate amount of negative compared to the small positive feeling felt by the WBC members creating this monster. Yes, they have the right, but should they use it? Is the ‘greater good’ being considered? Is it ‘socially responsible’? I most definitely don’t think so.

The latest Pride Parade has been conducted, and successfully concluded. People arrived to watch, laugh, and cheer. People showed their pride in being who they are. People learned that others with a different orientation are really no different at all. What are the negative consequences? Some litter along the parade route, the occasional parent having to explain sexuality to their child a few years earlier than they’d planned (not really a negative, if you think about it), and a disruption of traffic for a short while. Is it socially responsible; certainly. Is it for the greater good; absolutely.

How about campaigns to remove or not re-elect politicians and judges who insist on upholding the Constitution? How is the greater good served by making our legal political system biased and discriminatory against certain groups? We have seen similar removals of protections in the past in other countries, with the ascendancy of depraved despots being the result, as hatred was fueled and justice and decency waned. Obviously the greater good should improve conditions for people and the environment, not lessen, so it is completely irresponsible to mount these campaigns, even if there is a legal right to do so.

The next time you are faced with a decision, with the need to do something, or not do something, don’t think about what you can do by law or right, but rather, think about the socially responsible approach, what is going to result in the greatest good for humanity. Ultimately the right decision will serve you best too, as you too are part of the greater good.

“It gets better” program: yes or no
Sex education: yes or no
Civil discussion: yes or no
Politeness: yes or no
Responsible voting: yes or no
Respect everyone: yes or no
Respect everyone’s rights: yes or no
Promoting equality: yes or no
Saying “hello” to a stranger: yes or no
Letting the door slam in someone’s face: yes or no
Road rage: yes or no
Bullying: yes or no
Lies, slander, false rhetoric: yes or no
Assault: yes or no
Respect no-one: yes or no
Self before all else: yes or no

Only you can make those decisions for yourself, but the world you end up with will depend on you.