Rights and duties

I followed a post here with some interest.  It was on the topic of flirting.  A few different sides chimed in.

One of the things that emerged was that there were a variety of differences in whether or not flirting was o.k.  One of the differences was that there were a variety of different definitions of just what flirting is.  But some of the other differences were around who should make assumptions, and why.

Perhaps somebody says “I like your shirt.”  Some people felt that the person who says that bares the burden for not coming off as sounding innaprorpriately sexual.  Others felt that the shirt-wearer has an obligation to question, confront, or get out of the situation.

I don’t think anybody in that series of comments would deny that some responsibility lies with both parties.  But there were differences in emphasis.

I had two observations I wanted to make.  Both of them are philosophical points and might apply to this in a variety of ways.

The first is that we tend to avoid occasional big problems in the name of daily little successes.  I don’t know if this is always wise.

Let’s suppose I had a happiness meter.   We score a positive number every time a happy event happens.  We score a negative number every time a sad event happens.  The size of the number corresponds to how happy or sad the event is.

Perhaps confronting somebody is -15.  Wondering if somebody is saying something inaprorpiate is -30.  Dealing with people making untrue assumptions about us  is -25.  All these are results of allowing people to engage in certain behaviors which might be classified as flirtatious.  Ending up in court charging somebody with sexual harassment is -1000.  Ending a marriage is -100,000. 

Feeling good because somebody noticed you have a nice shirt on is +3.  Having people notice that you don’t segregate yourself like a junior high kid at a dance is a +1.  Making a connection with somebody is a +2.  These are smaller but they pop up much more often.

If we were rational, we’d look at all the minuses that are likely to occur.  And we’d look at all the plusses that are likely to occur.  It would be worth it if the plusses outwiegh the minuses.  But I think that some times we’re not rational.  I think that some times, we see that there are big minuses and just don’t do things, regardless of the benefits.  I think that behaviors which some consider “flirtatious” are this sort of thing: we don’t do it to avoid the costs, even though the benefits make it worth it.

I’m not saying we should flirt in every sense of the word to our hearts content.  The more flirtatious we become the greater chance we have of venturing into the territority of really unfortunate things (court, divorce)  The more likely these things are to occur the less rational it is to engage in the activitity.

My second observation is this:

It was interesting that most of the discussion was really focused on rights.  Our society is founded on rights.  I’m allowed to do this.  You’re allowed to do that.

One of the problems that I think happens is the concepts of rights isn’t very biblical.  That’s a huge statement.  It’s a vast oversimplification.  I’m sure there are dozens of verses to prove me wrong.

But on the whole, Jesus doesn’t talk as much as what we have a right to as he does what we have a duty to do. 

A perfectally good ethical scheme could pop up from either approach.  In fact, you could create two nearly identical societies from rights-based ethics and duty-based ethics.

For example, I could write a consitution that says “You have a right to free speech.”  Or I could write a constitution that says “You have a duty to allow people to allow people to say what they wish to say.”

You couldn’t tell, by looking from the outside, which way they expressed this, if both ideas were perfectally followed.

So the thing I noticed is that the discussion about flirtation focused a lot on the rights of the person speaking, and of the person listening.

I don’t know exactly how it all plays it, but I think things start to look different if we shift gears.  If we focus on the duties of the person speaking, and the duties of the person listening, some of this disagreement just fades away, I think.

What do you think?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “Rights and duties”

  1. So you know I’m going to have to chime in here. I hope I am perceiving this all correctly. There are a couple of things that I’m trying to capture in this all. Are you saying that flirting is really a wise thing as long as it stays small?

    “The first is that we tend to avoid occasional big problems in the name of daily little successes. I don’t know if this is always wise.”

    So going for the “little successes” because they mean “happiness” to us is worth it because we are able to end the “little successes” when we want to avoid the big problems? Is that possible? Can an addict do that? I don’t want to say that I think all little have to go to the addiction big. Drinking a beer does not mean that person will be an alcoholic. I’m not a deterministic. But if we don’t keep our those things in check, it’s easy to find ourselves over taken by those. Wouldn’t you agree?

    I would challenge the whole “happiness” scale based upon whether happiness is the wisest way to make decisions. Perhaps in specific cases, but in this case I have yet to see the benefit of flirting (something dynamically beyond being friendly and complimentary).

    The other thing I wanted to say was concerning this statement:
    “So the thing I noticed is that the discussion about flirtation focused a lot on the rights of the person speaking, and of the person listening.”

    This is also interesting and I sometimes was noticing this as well. But I didn’t equate it as much to rights and followed along the line of obligation of making the wise choice (perhaps ‘duty’ is the same, or no?) Some would argue “I have the right to do what I want.” Some would argue “you don’t have the right to do what you want.” or you could say that some would argue “I have an obligation to do what I want to be happy” and “you don’t have an obligation to yourself to do what you want to be happy.”

    What then is the obligation or duty? I’m saying: To make the wisest choice not based upon my level of happiness, but for the Glory of God and the betterment of my intimacy with God and my influence with unbelievers and my community with believers. Can’t someone say nice shirt and make it 99.9% obvious that it was not flirting, but simply a compliment? I think so. Maybe it’s saying more than just “nice shirt” and having a real friendly conversation?


  2. I was hoping you would chime in…
    I was actually making a wider point than flirtation… It seems like in many areas we tend to choose against occasional problems even if there are more frequently experienced gains.
    I wasn’t saying that the flirty road was the wise road at all. But I was saying that we choose “better safe than sorry” often and end up both safe and sorry.
    Using the scale as happiness was probably not the best example. You’re exactly right on that count.
    I think that duty is pretty much what you say it is– making the choice to glorify God.
    Context is king when it comes to “Nice shirt” or many other similiar sorts of things. I think that much of the time it will be quite clear whether it’s a flirtation or not…


  3. Thanks for that link David! I’ve been using a pretty similiar document by North point but I actually like the one you pointed me to better.
    I think that using “happiness” wasn’t a very good term in that post… but this doesn’t really answer your question.
    I’ve thought about this question for a few days. I don’t have a complete answer. But I’m interested in what others think so I think I’m going to write a post summarizing my first couple thoughts. I hope you’ll join in the discussion.


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