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Issues - Rights - Rights an excuse to fight

What are rights other than an excuse to fight?
Two long standing controversies have polarized the La Jolla community: Should a cross be kept on top of Mount Soledad and should seals have priority over people at the Scripps' breakwater and Children's Pool.
On the surface, these issues would appear to be unrelated, but on closer examination they both reflect one of the most complex dilemmas in contemporary American culture. This dilemma is centered in the concept of human "rights."
Human rights were, perhaps, envisioned by the framers of the Constitution as the cornerstone to a perfect realm of equality and freedom. Above all, human rights were to be guarded and protected because our forefather's valued the lives of others as much as or more than they did their own.
Today, our desire for human rights in America is no longer motivated by a compassionate concern for others. It appears, in fact, we are no longer even concerned for the rights of others. We are only concerned for our own rights.
Rights are no longer an expression of altruism but of selfishness. Today, rights are used as the ultimate weapon in a free but progressively factious and splintered society.
It is the perfect weapon, of course, because no matter how divisive or polarizing any issue may be, no one can attack anyone else's final cause, claim, demand and assertion for their own rights. On this, we must agree, because human rights were, after all, what made America, America.
Whether it is the rights of an atheist who sees a Christian cross as an offense or a violation of a personal interpretation of the Constitution, or a group of animal activists who fight for the rights of those who could not possibly fight for rights themselves, the cause of rights has become the foundation for nearly every unresolved social issue in contemporary society.
This increasingly forceful assertion of "my rights" or "our rights" over "your rights" was perhaps something the Founding Fathers envisioned. Perhaps they knew if human rights were actually established, even this adversarial approach to the use of rights would not undermine or damage the society for which those rights were created.
But does it? Do we, as a society, suffer from the deeper and wider battle lines forged in the name of individual rights?
There is no doubt that among these rights-driven issues, there are highly justified and sincerely felt disagreements. Pro-choice rights and gay rights in marriage are two that come to mind. Who is right and who is wrong in these issues is not as important to me as the fact that they are issues that justify a fight.
Of course, how we fight and what we fight for is as personal as each human being in our society and as broad as each administration of our government.
Yet, in another sense, when I relax my efforts at objectivity even to the smallest degree, I see many of these rights driven debates as the unnecessary starting point toward a future of escalating hostility.
The Mount Soledad Cross is a case in point.
As a San Diego native born and raised in Pacific Beach, this is not a religious object. It is a local landmark. Having left San Diego for many years and to return five years ago, few things in my hometown have remained the same over my life time: Highway 163 through Balboa Park, certain stretches of 101 and the cross on Mount Soledad.
I value these places deeply because, on a very personal level, they connect me to the city where I was born. They are all the more important because they are so few.
I am not a Christian, and if the cross on Mount Soledad had been a Star of David or even Mickey Mouse, it wouldn't have mattered to me. All that would have mattered would have been that it was there, in the beginning, my beginning. And if that cross or star or mouse had still been there when I returned to my hometown, I would have been just as grateful.
My question now is this: Does an atheist who is offended by the perceived lack of enforcement of a constitutional law have any concern for the part in me that appreciates this cross for precisely the reasons I appreciate it? Probably not.
The same may be said for the Children's Pool. Whether the rights of seals actually outweigh children's rights to go swimming in this location is almost a side issue. That a group of people could so aggressively argue for seals' rights they would be willing to violate family tradition and discontinue the opportunity for future memories represents a kind of hostility which, to me, is not proportionate to the issue.
This is, for me, the core and crux of the danger we face today.
Our nearly fanatical, ever splintering causes for rights may, in certain instances, stand in violation of something just as fundamental as rights themselves, common sense. And even more, basic compassion for each other.
My hope is to see the cross remain and children once again swim at the Scripps breakwater, not because seals are unimportant and not because atheists are unimportant, but because compassion and tolerance for each other is more important than either.

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