Four principles – 2: There are no rights

What rights do we need to design for in enterprise-architecture? At the really big-picture scale?

This is the third in a series of posts on principles for a sane society:

A bit of background first. I’m working on a book and conference-presentation about the role of the ‘business-anarchist’. Part of work involves exploring some ideas and challenges at the Really Big Picture Enterprise-Architecture (RBPEA) scope – enterprise-architecture at the scale of an entire society, an entire nation, an entire world – and then see where it takes us as we bring it back down again to the everyday.

As I described in the first post in this series, I’ve been looking for fundamental principles upon which long-term viability can depend, under conditions of often highly-variable variety-weather – the changes in change itself. To me, after several decades of study, there seem to be just four of these: there are no rulesthere are no rightsmoney doesn’t matter, and adaptability is everything.

So here’s a bit more detail about the second of those principles for a sane society: the understanding that the beautiful ideal of ‘rights’ has fatal flaws in real-world practice, and that, to make it work, we need to get back to the real responsibilities that underpin those purported ‘rights’. Once we accept the reality of this, it has huge implications for our enterprise-architectures…

Principle #2: There are no rights – only responsibilities

I’ve written quite a lot already on these themes in this blog, but it’s important to bring it out again in this context, because of the way it links to all of the other core-principles.

This principle follows directly from Principle #1, in that a purported ‘right’ is, in essence, a rule that we attempt to impose upon others, usually for our own benefit. The sentiment behind ‘rights’ is usually worthwhile, but there are two fundamental flaws:

  • a ‘right’ is usually a declaration of a desired outcome, but without any indication as to how the heck that outcome could be achieved
  • a ‘right’ is frequently used as an assertion of absence of responsibility: “I have rights, you have responsibilities”

In many cases, the requirement for a ‘right’ occurs only in defence against someone else’s purported ‘right’: for example, much of the original ‘Women’s Rights’ discourse started out that way. Within a viable society, we definitely need some means to defend ourselves against the all-too-popular delusion that ‘might is right’….

Yet some so-called ‘rights’ exist more for offence than defence, which is definitely not a good idea. One classic example is the purported ‘right to bear arms’ in the amended US Constitution, often cited as a defence against the powers of government, but whose real purpose was to preserve and defend slavery – the purported ‘rights’ of slave-owners over the lives of others as ‘their’ slaves.

[Update: as you’ll see from the first of the comments below, the article at the link above about ‘real purpose was to defend slavery’ is only one particular view of that aspect of the fine-detail of US history; there are indeed other views. Please don’t get distracted about that: there are many, many other examples, such as the ‘right’ of ‘jus primae noctis‘ supposedly claimed by feudal seigneurs over their vassals’ lives. The point here is that ‘rights’ ‘over’ others exist, in essence, to condone or protect offence rather than defence – and are disturbingly common, even in the present day.]

In that case, and in many others, the ‘right’ is asymmetric, assigned only to certain group. Much of the current ‘Women’s Rights’ discourse likewise falls into this category. Every such example represents institutionalised abuse, in the literal sense of the use of a culture’s institutions to offload some form of exclusive-responsibility onto the Other without their engagement and consent.

Purported ‘rights’ are also frequently used to claim inherent priority over others. If a ‘right’ is supposedly ‘inalienable and absolute’, then by definition it has priority over mere human-made laws: hence an assertion of ‘my rights’ can be used as a kind of magic trump-card to override the needs of everyone else. Absolutism of ‘rights’, however, means that there is no way to resolve a conflict of symmetric purported-‘rights’: in practice, often the only way out is a reversion to ‘might is right’…

Most seriously, ‘rights’ tend automatically to create a paediarchy – ‘rule by, for and on behalf of the childish’. (I’ll write a separate post on this somewhen in the next week or so.) Under a paediarchy, selfishness, self-centredness and irresponsibility are actively rewarded, whilst those who do take responsibility are often blamed or punished. Most societies can tolerate small amounts of paediarchy, especially if it’s relatively transient in individuals – as we’d usually hope it would be with most toddler-age children. However, a ‘rights’-based social model both condones and incites assertions of absence of responsibility – feeding and rewarding a spiralling tendency towards a societal-scale paediarchy such as a slave-culture. No society can survive indefinitely the inherent tensions in that kind of downward-spiral.

The only viable way out of that mess is to refocus on responsibilities, not ‘rights’. A real awareness of this point might explain what, to some current feminists, is an otherwise-inexplicable complaint in the ‘Declaration of Sentiments‘ from the iconoclastic Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in 1848:

He has made her morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband.

(By the way, for those of us genuinely committed to gender-equality, it can be a sobering and disappointing experience to do a simple gender-inversion on each of the assertions in the ‘Declaration of Sentiments’, and recognise from that thought-experiment just how much we’ve allowed the pendulum of seductively-selfish sexism to swing too far the other way… not a good idea…)

What the activists at the Seneca Falls Convention realised – and so many activists have since ‘conveniently’ forgotten – is that the absence of acknowledged responsibility must necessarily lead to an enforced infantilisation of those who are ‘protected’ from responsibility: ultimately, not a fun experience for anyone… And a culture that demands that only some self-selected group have responsibility-free ‘rights’, whilst the excluded Others are assigned the responsibilities to create those ‘freedoms’ for everyone except themselves, is a paediarchy that puts everyone in peril: again, not a good idea.

In essence, Principle #2 asserts that every purported ‘right’ can and should be reframed in terms of interlocking mutual responsibilities. Shifting the emphasis from ‘rights’ to responsibilities makes the desired-outcome of each ‘right’ much more achievable in real-world practice:

  • a focus on the interlocking and interdependence of responsibilities identifies how the desired-outcome can be achieved
  • a focus on the mutuality of responsibilities provides active protection against paediarchy and other ‘rights’-based dysfunctions
  • any asymmetries in responsibilities can be highlighted, and where necessary can then also be described in defensible yet challengeable form – for example, the lesser ‘response-abilities’ of children relative to adults

I know I’m not going to be popular for saying this, but there is no escaping the fact that basing a nation’s culture on purported ‘rights’ is just about the most dangerous delusion that any society could impose upon itself – because in the longer term its only possible outcome is rampant paediarchy, or worse. The citizens of certain countries will no doubt have huge difficulty with this one, but – to be blunt – a Bill Of Rights or suchlike is not something to celebrate, but best understood as a societal-scale suicide-note. Once again, not a good idea… You Have Been Warned?

Again, and again, we need to face this fact: ‘rights’ look great in theory, but just do not work in practice – especially over the longer term. The only way that does work is to rebuild around responsibilities: to create active incentives for responsibility – not disincentives.

And as with the pseudo-certainties of ‘rules’, and the need to rethink in terms of guidelines to work with Reality Department’s real uncertainties, the same recursion applies at every level, from nations to societies and sub-cultures to organisations and organisational sub-units and all the way down, even to the way the web-services and the like interact with each other. Which is where this brings us back down out of the abstract again, and on to the practical concerns of everyday enterprise-architectures.

Implications for enterprise-architecture

Every purported ‘right’ is, in essence, a rule that claims to be absolute and non-negotiable – which, as per the previous post on ‘rules’, is not a viable idea in real-world practice. Worse, purported ‘rights’ often provide no means whatsoever to indicate how the outcome of that ‘right’ should be delivered; and, worse again, rarely provide – or even permit – any means to resolve the many, many, many real-world clashes between such purported ‘rights’. In other words, rather than resolving real-world concerns, ‘rights’ usually make it almost impossible to resolve them – and then complain about it, loudly.

Even the idea of ‘rights’ is rarely a good idea anywhere. This especially applies in business, because it leads so easily to bad designs and bad decisions. Seth Godin summarises this point with his usual pithy brilliance in a short post on ‘Owning vs. renting‘:

Owning vs. renting
You don’t own attention or trust or shelf space. You don’t even own tomorrow’s plans.
It’s all for rent, with a cancellation clause that can kick in at any time.
The moment you start treating the rental like a right, it disappears.

The word ‘own’ in that quote is a colloquial shorthand for ‘right to possess’ – a classic theme of paediarchy and ‘kiddies-anarchy’, particularly when we contrast it with a more adult mutual-respect and mutual-responsibility for stewardship of a shared-resource. The reality is that mutual-responsibilities work; ‘rights’ don’t.

Unfortunately, almost all existing enterprise-architectures are riddled with purported ‘rights’, at every possible scale: property-rights, decision-rights, right to punish, rights to ‘authority over others’, rights to priority-treatment, and so on , and so on, and so on. Again, almost all of these ‘rights’ purport to be absolute, inalienable, and non-negotiable – many of which assertions at present have the full support of social-custom, regulation and law. The reason why the word ‘unfortunately’ applies here is that every single one of those ‘rights’ is guaranteed to cause dysfunction in the respective system, because – by definition – they neither accept nor even acknowledge the reality of real-world variance: “my right is my right“, absolute, indisputable, now, no trade-off, no question, no matter what the real-world may say about it…

Oh the joys of ‘kiddies-anarchy’: it never works…


In practice, mangled ideas about ‘rights’ are one of the main reasons why most of our enterprise-architectures are such a mess. (If you don’t yet realise they’re a mess, or the scale of the mess that they’re really in, you haven’t been looking hard enough…) And despite their current dominance in most social-discourse, the bleak joke is that on their own, ‘rights’ don’t deliver anything at all: what does deliver is the interplay of the real mutual-responsibilities that underpin every so-called ‘right’.

So to get the architectures to work, we need to get rid of every single one of those ‘rights’, and replace them with clear descriptions of mutual-responsibilities. Which is not a trivial challenge… but it’s the only way that works.

To say that this one is ‘political’ is possibly the understatement of the century… 🙁 In practice, though, there are several guidelines that can make this kind of work more viable and less perilous (for the enterprise-architect) than it might otherwise be:

Always focus on the desired-outcome that the ‘right’ purports to provide. In essence a ‘right’ is actually a means – a purported ‘solution’ – towards some desired ends. As with all architecture-work, we need to avoid any form of ‘solutioneering’, and instead explicitly separate out the means from the ends.

Always link this to the previous/parallel work on transitioning from rules to guidelines. In particular, focus on themes such as the dangers of pseudo-certainty, the practical reasons behind the need to ‘surface’ hidden-assumptions and arbitrary expectations, and also the need to maintain awareness of the respective variances and variety-weather in each context in scope.

Always avoid any direct challenge to ‘rights’. Remember that ‘rights without responsibilities’ is the foundation-stone for paediarchy – hence any direct challenge to purported ‘rights’ is likely to trigger the contextual equivalent of two-year-old’s temper-tantrum when ‘dispossessed’ of some tantalising toy. Within architectural assessment and system-redesign, challenges to purported-‘rights’ must always be indirect, focussing on outcomes and responsibilities: much as with a two-year-old-child, we need to gently distract attention away from the feared ‘loss’, and towards what actually works, including clear explanations and reminders of what the desired-outcome actually is. (If this sounds a bit arrogant and patronising, remember that every person – including us – has an angry out-of-control two-year-old lurking somewhere within them: this applies to everyone, not just some convenient somewhere-out-there ‘Them’.)

Remember too that there’s nothing ‘new’ (or, for US folks, ‘socialist’ or suchlike) about replacing purported ‘rights’ with mutual-responsibilities: doing so delivers the same overall outcome, but in a way that is far less problematic, far less conflict-prone and far more effective for everyone involved. For example, compare a typical traffic-management model in the US – based on ‘right of way’ – versus traffic-management in the UK, which, although colloquially described as ‘right of way’, in law is actually based on ‘responsibility to give way’ and overall ‘responsibilities to all road-users’. In the US model, practical outcomes include the ‘four-way stop’, which forces frequent stop-and-start in order to re-establish who has ‘possession’ of exclusive-priority of ‘right of way’, and for which the only apparent method to resolve any conflict of exactly-symmetrical ‘rights of way’ – such as four people arriving at a cross-junction at the same moment – is a ‘might-is-right’ fight. Contrast that with the UK model, where the guidelines clarify what the responsibilities to achieve the overall-outcomes actually are, and where mutual-responsibilities impose an explicit requirement to negotiate with others an appropriate and ‘fair’ resolution to potential-conflicts, because no-one can ever claim ‘exclusive-possession’ of the ‘right of way’.

In practical terms, whenever we see any kind of purported ‘right’, at any level of the architecture, we need to apply questions such as these:

  • What is the actualdesired-outcome that the ‘right’ purports to deliver?
  • What responsibilities are needed, and by and from whom?
    • (a counterpart ‘Five Hows’ will often be useful here, to drill downward into practical details)
  • How will the outcome be achieved by these mutual-responsibilities?
  • How can, will and must the responsibilities interlock to support and verify mutuality?
  • How can and will ‘fairness’ and other such social drivers can be satisfied by such interlocks?
  • What are the variances in the context that a rigid ‘right’ would ignore? – and from that, how will the responsibilities, and mutuality of responsibilities, need to vary in different circumstances?
  • What are the interactions between the existing ‘right’ and other related ‘rights’? – and from that, how will these responsibilities support resolution of such interactions?
  • How will human variance in individual competence, skills-levels and other ‘response-abilities’ be allowed-for in the modelling of mutuality and interlock?
  • What governance-mechanisms need to be in place to detect and challenge evasion of responsibilities, attempts at ‘export’ of responsibilities to others, or any claims to ‘rights without responsibilities’?
  • How would overall governance, and any necessary sanctions from such governance, be applied in real-world practice?
  • What mutualities and governance-mechanisms need to be in place to support negotiating the real-world trade-offs between all of those responsibilities

I won’t pretend that any of this will be either easy or quick: to be honest, it’s usually tortuous, tedious and tendentious, a lot of very hard, very challenging and often personally-painful work. Yet the reason for doing it – the reason we must do it – is, again, that unfortunately it is the only way that works: and there’s no viable way to get round that fact. Oh well…

Over to you for comment, anyway?

6 Comments on “Four principles – 2: There are no rights

  1. Your link to the article about the original purpose of the 2nd amendment was convincing.

    However, I wanted to verify it first before jumping on that particular train. Reading about it I found this view:

    This author comes across as more credible to me and rejects the theory that the 2nd amendment’s purpose was to protect “slave patrols.” It is interesting to note that this author is professor in Law at Albany and has apparently written several books and articles in/around this subject.

    Anyway, you may want to review your position on this and your apparent support for that theory.

    • Thanks for the ‘fact-checking’ on that, Stephen – yes, you’re right, I ought to do a fixup to the text there, to point out that that it’s one reasonable-well-argued view rather than ‘formally approved fact’.

      Bear in mind, though, that the whole theme of ‘rights’ is so foundational to so much of present-day politics, that any challenge around ‘rights’ – perhaps especially around such a contentious ‘right’ as ‘the right to bear arms’ – will inherently tend to be experienced not as some abstract question, but right at a visceral level, a true existential threat. This will be particularly for anyone from the US, given the centrality of the Bill of Rights to US culture. It’d therefore be very natural to go hunting – and hunting hard – for any available counter-arguments, and also to assign those counter-arguments higher-priority simply because they do confirm the existing beliefs. I’d just ask you to be aware of that tendency, and the concomitant tendency to use almost anything as an excuse to dismiss the whole thesis on the basis of one example.

      So, to take this specific case, it may be so that the linkage between the phrase about ‘a well-regulated militia’ in the Second Amendment has no direct linear connection with the Slave Patrols. All I’ll say in my defence there is that the argument in that article seemed painfully plausible, especially when cross-linked to other slave-based economies in the British Empire (or other colonial powers) at that time. Yet even if that example is historically challengeable, it doesn’t invalidate the point I’m making, about certain ‘rights’ as as offence rather than defence – probably the classic would be ‘jus primae noctis’, the purported ‘right’ of a feudal seigneur to demand ‘first night’ with the woman of a newly-married couple.

      So what I’d ask here is, please, don’t get distracted by the fine-detail there: keep the focus on the point I’m making, that, by their nature, all purported ‘rights’ are inherently incapable of delivering the outcomes they claim, and hence, wherever practicable, should be replaced by structures of explicit interlocking mutual-responsibilities throughout our enterprise-architectures. That point is challenging enough: don’t make it worse by getting lost on the side-trails! 🙂

      Thanks again, anyway – much appreciated.

  2. Tom,

    Once again, a fine post, with a lot of good thinking to digest. I find myself agreeing with you (sometimes reluctantly) especially here:

    – Always focus on the desired-outcome that the ‘right’ purports to provide. In essence a ‘right’ is actually a means – a purported ‘solution’ – towards some desired ends. As with all architecture-work, we need to avoid any form of ‘solutioneering’, and instead explicitly separate out the means from the ends.

    and here:

    What the activists at the Seneca Falls Convention realised – and so many activists have since ‘conveniently’ forgotten – is that the absence of acknowledged responsibility must necessarily lead to an enforced infantilisation of those who are ‘protected’ from responsibility: ultimately, not a fun experience for anyone

    This last may be one of the most important insights of the piece, although not as “shocking” as the premise of the piece itself.

    I am, however, left feeling that you’ve overlooked something quite important – addressing the point that the “rights” you are so ready to discard were originally conceived as a way to address what were then societally fundamental asymmetries of power. I believe this power issue must be addressed, even if you believe the same result can be achieved through a framework of interlocking responsibilities. Have those power asymmetries withered away? If not, how are defined responsibilities to be enforced?

    Is it more effective, or clearer, to define things negatively (e.g. what someone is NOT permitted to do with the power they have) versus the attempt that a “rights” framework makes to express the same points positively (e.g. this is what everyone may expect, regardless of the power held by the other parties in the relationship)?

    • Hi Jeff – many thanks for the response, and glad you found it useful (even if ‘somewhat reluctantly’ in parts! 🙂 ).

      @Jeff: “I am, however, left feeling that you’ve overlooked something quite important – addressing the point that the “rights” you are so ready to discard were originally conceived as a way to address what were then societally fundamental asymmetries of power.
      I believe this power issue must be addressed, even if you believe the same result can be achieved through a framework of interlocking responsibilities. Have those power asymmetries withered away? If not, how are defined responsibilities to be enforced?”

      You’re right, this is really important – in fact it’s right at the core of all of this.

      First, on ‘the “rights’ you are so ready to discard” – I’m not ‘discarding’ anything. I’ll say it again, loudly: this is not about ‘discarding the desired outcomes of ‘rights’. All I’m saying is that the ‘rights’-discourse is a now-proven-inadequate mechanism for achieving those desired-outcomes. The end-result should be achieved – in fact the whole point is that we have a far better chance of being able to achieve it – by focussing on real responsibilities rather than abstract ‘rights’.

      Second, the next point – and the reason why we can and should question the concept of ‘rights’ – is one you highlight yourself: “[rights] were originally conceived as a way to address…”. ‘Rights’ are a ‘solution‘ to a practical concern. Again, I’ll emphasise that: ‘rights’ are a would-be ‘solution’ to a problem. And one thing we don’t do in enterprise-architectures is allow ourselves to get hung up ‘solutions’: we always look for the core-concern first, and we always put existing or proposed ‘solutions’ under review. Which tells us that ‘rights’, as a would-be ‘solution’ to reach towards a desired-aim, must be subject to scrutiny and review – just like every other ‘solution’.

      If we take the US historical-context, the focus on ‘rights’ arose in a culture where there was very strong focus on responsibilities – often in a dysfunctional form as near-feudal hierarchies of aristocracies and merchants alike, but responsibilities nonetheless. ‘Rights’ were arguably useful in that type of context. However, the inherent flaws of the ‘rights’ concept means that, a couple of centuries later, the concept of personal-responsibility has become so eroded that we need not just rebalance it, but to call into question the notion of ‘rights’ as a valid mechanism at all. That’s what I’m doing here.

      Next, “to address what were then societally fundamental asymmetries of power”. Yes, again, that’s right at the core. If you look at some my other work – such as the ‘manifesto’ on power and ‘response-ability’ on the workplace – you’ll see that I’ve done a lot of study on power and power-interactions, in a broad range of contexts from intrapersonal to interpersonal to group-collective (e.g. a business) to broad-collective (e.g. a society) to whole-of-context (i.e. the whole globe, present, past and future). It’s precisely because of that work that I’m so cautious and, increasingly, skeptical, about the ‘rights’-discourse. What I see in practice is several huge functional-flaws – such as the inherently lack of any mechanism to resolve ‘rights’-tradeoffs – and a very severe and increasing tendency for ‘rights’ to be used to reinforce power-asymmetries, rather than to resolve them.

      On “even if you believe the same result can be achieved through a framework of interlocking responsibilities”, it’s really important to understand that on their own, ‘rights’ do nothing at all: the desired-outcome of ‘rights’ is always and only achieved by interlocking mutual-responsibilities. Functionally, all that the ‘right’ does is declare the desired-outcome: that’s it. What happens next – to make that desired outcome happen – is somebody’s responsibility linked to someone else’s responsibility linked to someone else’s responsibility, and so on. The danger is that if we focus on the ‘right’ alone – as a desired-outcome for me alone, devoid of social-context – then the responsibilities get reframed as Somebody Else’s Problem: “I have ‘rights’, therefore I don’t have responsibilities“. That kind of thinking is what happens automatically if we don’t challenge paediarchy every step of the way: and unfortunately one of the key outcomes of that requirement is that we need to recognise that the concept of ‘rights’ has itself now become ‘part of the problem’ far more than ‘part of the solution’.

      On “Have those power asymmetries withered away?”, the short answer is ‘No’. That’s exactly the problem – otherwise this discussion would be irrelevant, wouldn’t it? One of the side-problems of the ‘rights’-discourse is that, by keeping the focus solely on ‘rights’, it actually distracts away from the power-asymmetries – in fact (as is increasingly the case in the so-called ‘women’s-rights’ space, for example) it actually increases those asymmetries, though sometimes just in different form.

      The way in which the ‘rights’-discourse increases rather than reduces the asymmetries is that it focusses on single issues, rather than building awareness of the whole. In many cases it implicitly or even explicitly blocks the view of the whole through a ‘term-hijack’ (again, much of the current ‘women’s-rights’ discourse provides all too many examples of that, though I hasten to add that there are many, many other ‘rights’-discourse domains that do much the same). Given that one of the first things we learn in whole-of-enterprise architecture is that we must always be aware of the whole, even when working on the smallest aspect of the enterprise, then it should be evident that such ‘term-hijacks’ are going to be a very serious problem indeed. Focus always on power and power-asymmetries as a whole, and in context of the whole: never solely in context of a (self-)selected part: that’s a core requirement here.

      On “If not, how are defined responsibilities to be enforced?”, the short answer is “the same as with all other responsibilities” – there’s nothing different or ‘new’ about this at all. It’s just whole-of-context governance – again, a well-known and well-understood discipline in enterprise-architecture and elsewhere. One of yet another of the unhelpful problems created by the ‘rights’-discourse is that it attempts to introduce a rigid absolutism into a governance-challenge that is already extremely complex: removing the redundant layer of pseudo-absolutes gives us some chance towards working our way through the real-world wicked-problem ‘messes’.

      To summarises again:

      • No-one is ‘discarding’ the intent behind ‘rights’, as a description of desired-outcomes in a social-context.
      • The notion of ‘rights’ is a useful simplification of an idealised aim – but if we treat as anything more than an (over)-simplification, we inevitably run into irresolvable problems – especially if and where ‘rights’ are asserted as ‘non-negotiable absolutes’.
      • The desired-outcome indicated by ‘rights’ is, in practice, always implemented through a mesh of interlocking mutual-responsibilities; hence, as soon as we (need to) explore implementation towards the desired-outcome, it is useful and wise to keep strong attention on the respective responsibilities, the mutuality of those responsibilities, and the interlocks between those responsibilities.
      • The huge danger of the ‘rights’-discourse is that its implicit absolutism and assertion of ‘rights’ as a ‘personal absolute relative to all Other’, is that it feeds directly into a paediarchal mindset of “I have rights, you have responsibilities” – inherently increasing rather than reducing power-asymmetries and, usually, rendering achievement of the overall desired-outcome of the ‘right’ impossible in practice.

      Hence, in practice, the ‘rights’-discourse is now, to a very large extent, far more of a hindrance than a help in reaching towards desired and desirable social-outcomes. It is a would-be ‘solution’ that did work well in the past, but does not work well now. My point in this post is that we need to stop ‘solutioneering’, and get back to the proper whole-of-enterprise architecture again: we need stop hanging onto a ‘solution’ that no longer works, and instead start again by focussing much more on the real responsibilities through which those desired social-outcomes are actually achieved.

      @Jeff: “Is it more effective, or clearer, to define things negatively (e.g. what someone is NOT permitted to do with the power they have) versus the attempt that a “rights” framework makes to express the same points positively (e.g. this is what everyone may expect, regardless of the power held by the other parties in the relationship)?”

      I’d generally prefer to frame it in positive form, with a strong emphasis of the value each person gains when it works for everyone (i.e. a combination of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘win/win’, leading to a socially-understandable ‘what’s in it for we’). Basic psych also warns that framing in the negative also actually tends to reinforce the negative (i.e. the ‘not’ in a ‘thou shalt not’ tends to get dropped from awareness), which is another reason to prefer framing in the positive. But that’s just my opinion, and it’s only a guideline anyway, because no doubt there’ll be examples where a negative framing would work better. That’s something to be resolved by (a lot of!) real-world experimentation, I guess.

      Also remember that for children it actually is useful to talk somewhat in terms of ‘rights’ and suchlike, because pseudo-‘rules’ are easier to understand, especially where there is limited ‘response-ability’. It’s just that as adults we need to remember that whilst we might talk about ‘rules’ as if they’re ‘the truth’, there’s a subtle yet huge difference between ‘as-if‘ versus ‘is‘.

      Better stop there: long long answer, I know – apologies… 😐 – but I hope it makes a bit more sense now?

  3. Further thoughts prompted by this piece.

    I have always known about the notion of with every right there is a corresponding responsibility. So, it is interesting to think of expressing the right as a responsibility (which I sometimes forget to do), and then have the mutual statements – such as, as a road user I have a responsibility to … and others have a responsibility to …

    This is why in the debate about the absence of and need for a Bill of Rights in Australia, I have always advocated for a Bill of Responsibilities.

    There is much to explore about power, including:

    Role of government in effecting balance of power eg. monopoly powers, through introduction of responsibilities on the powerful in the interests of the powerless

    Role of government in addressing market failure – the overriding of powers or lack of attention to responsibilities

    There is also thinking to be done in terms of responsibilities between two parties in any engagement – which is where EA comes in because we have internal and external interactions / engagements at the heart of our considerations!

    • Peter – thanks for these notes (and others!)

      @Peter: “the mutual statements – such as, as a road user I have a responsibility to … and others have a responsibility to …”

      It’s perhaps easier to reframe as “everyone, including me, has a responsibility to…” – that way the mutuality and general ‘fairness’ stands out more clearly.

      @Peter: “in the debate about the absence of and need for a Bill of Rights in Australia, I have always advocated for a Bill of Responsibilities”

      I did exactly the same in that debate – in fact sent in a formal submission to the Commission about it. Glad to see that someone else takes the same view as I did, because it certainly wasn’t popular at the time!

      Bleakly amusing twist was that whilst Australia didn’t (and still doesn’t?) have a general Bill of Rights, we very nearly had a Bill of Women’s Rights, that in effect would have asserted that all law must be reframed such that only women have rights, and only men have responsibilities (aka ‘the blame for everything’…). That was from the bewretched ‘Office for the Prime Minister for the Status of Women’ (part of the Prime Minister’s office): killing that proposed bill was one of the few sensible things that the Howard government did. Sigh…

      @Peter: “There is much to explore about power, including:” etc

      Yep. A huge amount of work that needs to be done, that most people don’t seem to have noticed at all. I’ve been nibbling at it for a few decades now, but will freely acknowledge I’ve still barely touch the surface: some of the results so far are in my ‘Manifesto on power and response-ability in the workplace’ – see – and in my sort-of-novel ‘Yabbies’ – see .

      @Peter: “which is where EA comes in…”

      Yep, exactly. Which is why this is part of the scope of EA: in other words, necessarily a much larger scope than many EA-folks seem to have realised so far.

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