THE BLOG

Opposing Sides -- Rights vs. Needs

Are you an "adherence-to-the-law" person? Do you believe that law and order is to be respected and followed always and in all circumstances? Or are you a "respond to different needs" person? You believe that there are circumstances that permit needs to be considered on an individual basis--not according to the letter of the law, but according to how that law can be interpreted.
Rights: Strict adherence to law.

Needs: Swayed by circumstances.

There seems to be a gender difference in the approach to justice: Most men tend to see the world in terms of justice and rights, while most women tend to respond to individuals' needs. Men are comfortable with concepts such as objectivity, law, policy, criteria, principles, analysis, categories, and standards, while women are more comfortable with concepts such as subjectivity, harmony, caring, sympathy, appreciation, intimacy, persuasion, social values, and special circumstances.

People who use the more personal mode as the basis for decisions, call others heartless, remote, cold, unfeeling rationalizers, lacking the milk of human kindness. People who use the more impersonal mode for decision making call others softhearted, over-emotional, illogical fuzzy thinkers, unable to take a firm stand, and accuse them of wearing their hearts on their sleeves. I do not wish to polarize the genders into two opposing camps, but it is important to understand that the research point to tendencies and comfort levels that are different for most--but, of course, not all--men and women.

Actually, the men who act in impersonal ways are capable of the same emotional intensity as women, but they have been taught not to show their emotions and not to act on them. In other words, they don't consciously take their emotions into account when reacting or making decisions. We, of course, know that emotions recognized or not, influence our decision-making. Women, on the other hand, who act in more personal ways, can be as logical as men, and use their feelings as valuable criteria for information.

Let us take the abortion issue as an example, but instead of speaking of male or female ways of perceiving the world, let us use the terms personal and impersonal, for many men can use the personal mode and many women, the impersonal one. For people who are more comfortable in the impersonal mode of thinking, and who are not adhering to religious principles, abortion is a matter of fetus viability:

1. People who function best in the impersonal mode look for a law or a rule.
2. The law, in this case, is that, to take a life is murder.
3. The question then becomes "when does life begin?"
4. For guidelines, we turn to science to tell us when there is viability or life.
5. When that is decided, the problem is solved.
6. This process removes it from moral choice, removes it from individual responsibility and from its effect on people.

For those who function best in the personal mode, the issue is not when life begins or the rights of fetuses in general, but what are the needs of the individual woman who is affected, what are the circumstances, what are the consequences? It becomes obvious that there cannot be a law or rule for each individual; therefore, the responsibility for moral choice is given to the individual, who must make the choice and whose life is affected. [Are there not those who consider the needs of the fetus too?]

We see here, very clearly, the "rights" verses "needs" controversy, and how preferred modes of functioning affect decision making. To paraphrase, we either believe in the "rights" of the fetus or in the "needs" of the woman. It is important for people to identify their own comfort or discomfort with both modes, thus gaining some understanding as to where the others come from.

Both rights and needs have their place in human affairs. The people who are not locked into only one way of seeing and understanding the world are the people who can bridge the differences.
Many issues are polarizing-- "This is the way it has always been done," versus "Let's try something new." Another example is "This is the way I was raised," versus "This is not appropriate anymore." It has to do with "you always" or "you never" as opposed to "sometimes when you..." So, figure out the mode of functioning you're most comfortable in and make an effort to understand the other side.

As I write this last sentence, I am aware that I write as a woman, for whom bridging differences is more important than winning. I guess one cannot easily transcend the primary value system of one's gender.