Creating a society of individuals with rights but no responsibilities

Last week, my institution was in crisis. Many staff had tested positive for Covid-19 and were in isolation. Our medical superintendent sent out a memo putting elective surgeries on hold. Emergencies and urgent surgeries would still be performed. Before our medical superintendent sent out the memo, he had a meeting with some units in the hospital to explain the situation and discuss the way forward.

It was a fruitful meeting, but something surprising (to me) happened. A young staff insisted it was not his responsibility nor the responsibility of any staff of the hospital (to make a phone call) to report to their unit head if they tested positive (were not too sick to be hospitalised) and had to go into self isolation for two weeks without reporting to work. To this young man, it was the duty of the doctor who saw the staff who had tested positive to report the absence of the staff who had tested positive to their unit heads. If there were 5 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 (or were unwell), the doctor in charge (who could be under a lot of pressure) had to contact all the unit heads immediately to inform them that those who had tested positive (or were unwell) wouldn’t come to work.

Sadly there are other people who think like this young man. Sure, the medical doctor who saw these patients/staff in the hospital has to contact the unit heads. This may take several hours depending on what is happening on the ground. Many unit heads have been under severe pressure because they get informed late when staff cannot come to work, so the heads are unable to quickly look for replacements to keep work going on in their units.

Do these staff who tested positive and cannot be at work have a responsibility to the institutions or units they work in to ensure that work goes on smoothly? Or they only have rights to be given days off when they test positive or fall sick? Should staff make any effort to contact their heads as soon as possible when they realise they cannot be at post so that heads immediately start working to find replacements for them for work to go on?

If I had the power to hire (and fire), and I had to choose between two equally competent people, I will always choose the person who believes in having responsibilities to the one who thinks he has only rights but no responsibilities.

How does a society get people to have responsibilities? Many responsibilities (unlike rights) are unwritten. Growing up, many of us would stand up for elderly people to sit at public places. We saw this as our responsibility. These days I see few children do this. It is their right to sit down, especially if they paid for the seat in a vehicle or elsewhere.

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals in Russia, football fans from Japan stayed back after the matches to clean up the garbage inside the stadiums. They did this even when their national team crashed out of the tournament after losing 3-2 against Belgium. These are people who have been trained to have a ‘responsibility’ for their environment not just ‘rights’ to watch matches after buying tickets for these matches.

We can learn from those who talk about rights all the time without any responsibilities but we must remember that one day, we may be the victims. We may find ourselves in a system that has collapsed because everybody thought they had rights to benefit from the system without any responsibilities to keep it running.

1 Comment
  1. Delanyo Yao Tsidi Dovlo says

    i read your blog above on responsibilities and rights with some sadness as to the individualistic culture we may have become. whiles not excusing the attitude of the young staffer, i think having many persons like that on staff perhaps reflects also an organizational culture that makes them feel like an unimportant “cog in the wheel” and therefore with limited or strictly outlined responsibilities. of course the wider social, economic etc environment also contributes to such thinking. I hope an effort is made to understand a bit more where this attitude came from and where it seemed to have support, so that it can be resolved.

    I have found your posts most interesting

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