Rights and Responsibilities 9/28/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Recently a post on my social media page made a statement attributed to a Native American elder who, according to the post, explained the difference between the Native People and typical Americans. He said that while most Americans talk of their rights, Native Americans think of their responsibilities.

The Oglala people (I’m not sure if other Native Americans use the same metaphors) often speak of the Red Road and the Black Road. The Red Road is the road of spirituality, the good road. It’s the path of righteousness, while the Black Road is the road of excess, selfishness and destruction including self-destruction through the abuse of alcohol and drugs. As with many spiritual philosophies, they acknowledge that this path of self-constraint, sacrifice and service is the difficult of the two, a life of long-term fulfillment instead of instant gratification, and future happiness instead of immediate.

The world shifts when your gaze is turned. Ours is indeed a selfish society, more focused on self than on society or the needs of others. As Americans, we tend to think of our rights without thought of our responsibilities, but each new right gives rise to new responsibilities. For example, the right to vote comes with the responsibility of being properly informed. Unfortunately, such responsibilities are ignored by many of us. We should all feel the responsibility to protect those around us, family, friends and strangers alike, and yet people bark about their “Right” to decide whether or not to wear a mask in this pandemic.

The Native Americans also discuss “warriors”. In the Native tongue, “warriors” are not those who engage in violence, but rather, it is used to describe those who stand up for others who cannot stand up for themselves. Anyone who has stood up to a bully, protected another from racism, or stands up for the environment is a warrior and is on the red path.

The question becomes, for each of us, which path are we on, and which path do we desire? But the truth is, nobody can put us on either path. There is often desire to be honorable, to want to protect, to choose the red road, but it’s a difficult path to follow. And there are many temptations leading us to the black path. But the decision is ours to make, whether we follow the red road or black. Following a leader of honor can guide us and provide advice to help us maintain our travels should we choose the red road but cannot force us and cannot do the work for us.

It is possible to get off of the black road and onto the red, but the longer we’re on the black road the more difficult to navigate back to the red. The longer we stay on the easier path, the harder the addiction to instant gratification, whether we are talking about drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, technology, anger, cruelty, greed, money or any of the plethora of other temptations. On the black road, we tend to gather around us those of similar failings, while the red road is far lonelier and more isolated. People with addiction tend to surround themselves with “enablers”, those people with similar proclivities whose actions verify the addict’s belief that “everybody” has the same failing as the do, or who help them to hide their own addictions from themselves. Once the decision is made to change that road, it means upheaval if the black road has been the path for too long. Ties have to be cut, friends have to be lost, and difficult and sometimes painful work must be completed to truly change the road.

Today with the election just around the corner, too many are leading us as a society down the black road for their own political gain and power. These are the politicians who are merchants of fear, anger and racism. Those who would sow division are on the black road. It’s an easy road to fall for. As humans, we are easily frightened, and often fall too easily for what we want to believe rather than doing the research to ascertain what we should believe. It’s easier to believe gossip than it is to verify the stories and hear all sides.

I hope I’m on the red road. I work hard to live with honor, to speak truth, and to stand up for what I believe to be right, but the black road is a liar. Its promises are enticing, and it whispers lies into our ears. But I will fight every day to honor the red road.

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