Rights and Privileges

  • By Khin Maung Myint

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Ever since the beginning of my career days, nearly six decades ago, I have heard of these two words being used quite frequently. Thus I am very familiar with these two words and had used them myself a lot of times when speaking to my staffs. I used them whenever a staff member demanded that they were entitled to this or that as a right. I used to differentiate “rights” and “privileges” to point out that there are certain things that cannot be demanded as “rights”, but as “privileges” they can request or ask for and may be allowed to enjoy some favours, advantages, immunity or benefits if the authorities grant them. For example – promotions, transfers, some types of leave and etc.
During my career days, I had to do alot of explaining the meanings of “rights” and “privileges” to my staffs, because some of them thought they had the rights to everything. From my experience, I am of the opinion that most of them are confused with the terms “rights” and “privileges”. Some would demand a privilege as though it was their right. Today that confusion is more profound, not only in our country, but also in other countries too. One good example to prove that point is the people demonstrating and demanding, under the banners of “human rights”, for things that are not entitled to them as their “rights”.
Here, I would like to mention that this confusion is not only among the common people, but even some dictionaries too are confused. Because if you care to look up the meanings of those words in different dictionaries, you are bound to see the confusion they are in. Some dictionary even went far as to say that privilege is synonymous to the rights, which is totally wrong. “Right” and “privilege” are totally two different things, but it’s true there is only a very thin line separating them. Thus, I wouldn’t blame anyone for being confused.
To eradicate those confusions, these two words need to be analyzed thoroughly. Here it is noteworthy to learn that there are different interpretations and definitions of these two words, many are in agreement with one another, while some contradict others. Anyway, I’ll not be judging which are right or which are wrong, but will be mentioning them for the readers to choose what they want.
Some believe that “rights” are granted by God and everyone is born with those “rights” and some are of the opinion that “rights” are inherent in everyone since their births or in other words they are their “birth rights”. Some are of the opinion that “rights” are granted by a community or an organization. One such example is the “Constitutional Rights” prescribed by the Constitutions. As for the “privileges”, they can be granted by an individual or an organization based on the parameters prescribed by the respective rules and regulations they have to follow, but demands for undue privileges wouldn’t be accepted.
The concept I grew up with is: “rights” cannot be demanded, they will accessible to those who are entitled, but the “privileges” can be requested or asked for, but in a legal way. In other words, “rights” are entitlements, but they cannot be demanded, while “privileges” are favours or advantages that can be asked for. However, today, as people are being confused with “rights” and “privileges”, they are wrongfully demanding the “privileges” as “rights”.
For example most “human rights” issues, as the advocates of such movements label them, are not legitimate. Personally, I don’t accept them as “rights” but they are “favours” or “privileges”. People from far away lands who had never been to, or even know where that place is, are advocating for the cause of some people from that place who claimed they were being persecuted, are just ridiculous. The situations in one country may not be the same with other countries, due to differences in cultures, civilizations, racial attitudes and religious concepts, politics, etc, so measuring every case, all over the world, with the same yard stick cannot be realistic. A set of norms may work for some country but may not be applicable in others. I would like to humbly suggest they should consider changing the name to “human privileges”, which would be more appropriate.
To further clear the confusions, I would like to define the two words more precisely based from what I learned from an article found on the Internet, as follows: –

Characteristics of a right
It is something endowed on human beings naturally and inherently since their birth or they are born with it (Birth rights). It has not been given to them by others and thus should not be taken from them. No government can grant it, and no government should violate it. Since it is inherent to human beings, all human beings have the same rights. It is recognized universally–or very nearly so. Since everybody wants their rights recognized by others, it logically follows that they must recognize the rights of others. It imposes only a passive (or negative) obligation on other people. It says what others may not do to you.
It can be summed up that “right” is something that is claimed by almost all people and recognized by almost all people as an inherent property or quality of human beings that imposes a passive or negative obligation on other human beings.

Characteristics of a privilege
It is something that is given to them by somebody else. It is something that certain people have while other people do not have it. For example, some people receive the privilege of going to college at no cost to them, while other people must pay full tuition. It is open to dispute and is often disputed. Another example is, should people have the privilege of free health care? That question is debatable. It imposes an active (or positive) obligation on other people. It says what somebody must do for you.
Privilege can be summed up as something that people ask for or that somebody voluntarily grants to another as a special favor that imposes an active or positive obligation on the one providing it.

Apart from the “inherent rights” or “birth rights”, there is also what are called “constitutional rights”, prescribed by the constitutions of governments or organizations that people are entitled to. In reality the latter should be categorized as privileges, because they do not satisfy the true sense of the word “rights”, which says it cannot be granted or taken away from you by anyone, even by a government. Just notice how confusing these two words are by observing the word “right” is being used in the terms: “constitutional rights”, “human rights”, “workers’ rights”, “students’ rights”, etc. In the precise sense of the terms “right” and “privilege” explained above, these should not be called “rights”, but “privileges”. Thus people taking to the streets, in future, to demand or demonstrate under the banners of, “human rights”, “workers’ rights”, “students’ rights”, etc, should consider substituting the word “rights” with a more appropriate word “privileges”.
Along with the “rights” and “privileges”, come the responsibilities. It’s only natural that if one enjoys the rights (constitutional rights) and privileges, one must take responsibilities too. Every citizen has the duty to safeguard the sovereignty of the country they live in, has the duty to cast vote and involved in the political process. One must at least fulfill the responsibilities of a citizen or in other words fulfill the civic duties. In most foreign countries, every citizen is required by law to vote, serve in the military, volunteer in the community services and sit on the jury. Before concluding I would like to ask you whether you have fulfilled your civic duties and responsibilities today.

The Difference Between Rights and Privileges – an article by Kyle Ambrose.

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