Intimations of the Ocean


Our boundary-settting rights protect us from the seemingly overwhelming responsibility that would flow from a recognition of unity. This is, I think, a frightening form of the "oceanic feeling", intimations of which have reached us. We fear being "invaded," "taken over," not just by threats but by demands - the overpowering demands of those in pain and hunger all around us. We wall ourselves off from their cries - genuinely do not hear them most of the time, even though we "know" they are there - by telling ourselves that we are "within our rights," that rights define our obligations as well as our entitlements, and that as long as we have violated no one's rights, we are doing nothing wrong in our daily non-responsiveness...

From Law, Boundaries, and the Bounded Self by Jennifer Nedelsky


  1. This kind of reminds me of a conversation I had with John on a paper he wrote about the ethics of giving (mainly referring to a giving of oneself, but also other forms of giving). It's an overwhelming subject. Sounds like you have no lack of good reading :)

  2. We talked about rights and obligations in my Bioethics and the Law class. One teacher pointed out that his right to vote did not confer a societal obligation to provide free transportation to the voting booth. At some level, however, rights do confer obligations. There is a societal obligation to provide a reasonably accessible voting booth for my teacher, for instance.

    Of course, morality stand far above the minimal standards of social contract. Indeed, morality is hardly concerned with personal liberty, except in an inner, spiritual sense.

    This distinction between the legal obligations of social contract and the ethical obligations of a moral individual is very important. For one thing, it explains why no nation, however brilliantly founded on a social contract of personal liberty, can survive with a morally degraded society.

  3. I like this paragraph... it made me think about the word "rights". All the different ways we use the word and the multi-layered web of human interaction that it represents... Most every argument and war has stemmed from varying viewpoints on "rights". The respect for "rights" is the polarizing factor that distinguishes heroes and villains in any society.

    However, the concept seems even more vast when applied on a personal level. This call to rise to the "Responsibility that would flow from a recognition of unity." A unity that is cheap to verbally support. A unity that is costly to obtain in real life. And perhaps is a prismatic view of the unity that God calls us to.

  4. You're right Barry, it's a one-way street. Individual morality may result in a workable social contract, but no matter how carefully conceived a social contract is, it will ultimately crumble in the face of substantial individual moral degradation. I'm sure there's a quote about that by the Founders somewhere...

    No, no lack of reading, good or otherwise (although fortunately mostly good :)

    Thanks for catching that Caitlin - unity purely for its own sake - unity unfiltered by the Divine prism is not worth seeking. :)

  5. Mmm....this joins the ranks of the recent thoughts that have been running around my brain. Thoughts stimulated by Christian Ethics from Dr. Bauer :) and the view that the Ten Commandments are spoken directly to each of us as moral agents to instruct us on the rights of others.

    The deeply profound, yet simple questions that we can ask are, "Whose rights are being protect?" and, i.e if God, then, "How is the commandment calling me to use my power to protect His rights?" (i.e. His right to exclusivity, priority, authority, mystery... etc.

    In light of this, I am beginning to understand how David could say, "I love your law!" ... "I meditate on it day and night."
    This 'other centered' focus carries over into every senario of our lives.
    It is based off of Philipians 2:5-7 and the principle, set by Jesus example, of emptying ourselves to bless and protect others.... how often to we really 'lay down' our rights (empty ourselves) in order to protect and uphold the rights of others?

    I'm excited to see what God is going to teach me...

  6. Wow--that's deep, Shaila. Would it be fair to say that the first four commandments are, at least facially, about God's rights, whereas the last six are focused on the rights of our neighbors, or is that oversimplifying things?

    Thanks easycool; if you're referring to the design, I would have to point you in the direction of my excellent designer, Mrs. Howe :) If you're referring to the content, I hope it was a blessing.


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