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Not necessarily a right

Everything is not a “right.” The thinking “left” knows that.
Unfortunately, there are few thinkers left anymore. Left or right.

In a culture where news has been reduced to a 30-second sound byte, followed by “analysis,” what is left to think about? And why? No wonder so few are thinking. It’s simply no longer required.

No matter how sophisticated society becomes — or how deep the decline, for that matter — we cannot escape the law of unintended consequences. A recent television commercial on behalf of a major petroleum corporation reminds us that even the most positive directions of society can lead to unintended consequences. The commercial — maybe you’ve seen it — depicts a young mother with a toddler in her lap. While the toddler fidgets with oversized “toddler sunglasses,” the mother explains that clean air should be a “right.”

Really now?

The civil rights movement has delivered a socially destructive and unintended consequence. As a child of the ‘50s who remembers “whites only” waiting rooms and “colored” water fountains, it is hard for me to say that. But it’s true. Inadvertently, the civil rights heroes of my childhood — Julian Bond is a good example — utilized rhetoric so compelling that somehow our society now believes that absolutely everything is a right.


Rights are few. But the last 50 years of children were bred on the rhetoric of the movement — serious rhetoric for a serious movement which brought voting rights to many has seduced many more into claiming as “rights” many things which simply aren’t.

Clean air, for example. Clean air is a “right” only in the most esoteric terms. It certainly is not a civil right or a legal right in this country. And it only takes a trek to Europe, Asia or South America to appreciate what a “privilege” clean air is.

Years ago, as a very young traffic court prosecutor, I sounded like a broken record: “A drivers license is a privilege and not a right.” But Mississippi drivers were astounded — dumfounded! Because the drivers I prosecuted were drivers in United States culture — accustomed to thinking of everything as a right.


Whatever your political stripe, please conclude with me that not everything in our society is a “right.” Demand that members of our society be called upon to think — to distinguish between a “right” and a “privilege” — a “right” and a “wish.”
Many of those “rights” that are discussed each day are no more rights than “…a man in the moon” as my Grandmother would say.

Make your associates and your employees and your children distinguish between “rights” and “wants.” Then appreciate the “rights” we have as United States citizens as well as the many privileges this country affords us.

But get it right! “Rights” are few and far between, they have been fought for — each and every one of them — and they are the result of sacrifice, not demand.

Lydia Quarles, an attorney, serves as commissioner of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission. Her e-mail address is lydia@lquarles.com.

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