The difficulty with sociology is that it mainly deals with individuals and rarely with persons (though Mark Regnerus’ latest book, Cheap Sex, does both).
An individual is one among many. A person is unique – unique to those who know him and relate with him. Thus we are unique to our mothers who tend to know us better than anyone else, at least in our early years, and likely always in our fundamental personality. We are unique to our spouses whether blessed with a good marriage, or not. Sometimes a special friend knows us best for we have revealed more of ourselves to them than to anyone else.
We know we have individual rights — both universal rights and political rights unique to our citizenship. Universal rights belong to all. Individual political rights belong to those on whom they are conferred by the polis, by the community acting as a political entity. Universal rights cross all borders; political rights are confined within political borders, and even within groups within these borders.
But do we have any personal rights distinct from individual rights?
Strangers I meet on the street are individuals to me and have individual rights I must respect. But they are not yet persons for me, though they are persons to others.
However they are very much persons to their mothers, in whose womb they grew, whose eyes first looked into theirs and saw their first smile of “happy to be with you”. Most of them are very much a person to their fathers, in a relationship that might rival that with their mother, if they are blessed. Then with their siblings if they are blessed with a happy family life. And so the circle of person-ness extends outwards through close relationships.
If I have an enemy – one who wishes me ill – that changes my sense of myself and I am a different person because of that relationship. I know evil in an intimate way. That makes me a different person. If I have many enemies that shapes me into yet a more different person.
I may be blessed with many loving relationships. I may be cursed with many personal enemies.
My relationships do not make me an individual. I was an individual before I had any personal relationships.
What I am makes me an individual. Whom I relate with makes me who I am. The more loving relationships I have the easier it is for me to relate with others and with myself. The more negative relationships I have the more difficult it is for me to relate with others and with myself. Our relationships amplify or detract from our ability to harness our capacities for good.
Are there any loving relationships to which I have a “right” — relationships which the other person has a duty to provide to me?
I posit there are three. Everyone has a right to the loving relationship of their mother in the early years of our life. And the same is true of his father. These two beings (father and mother) brought us into existence and thus conferred all the burdens of existence as well. And to bear these burdens, to thrive in an ordinary, basic, human way we will need their loves.
But we also need their love for each other because without that milieu of mutual love we cannot become fully the ordinary person we are constituted to become. Just as it would be inhuman for my parents to deprive me of the oxygen I need to breath so too it is inhuman to deny me the atmosphere of love I need to become a person capable of relating well and intimately.
And because this is a universal need, a universal situation for every newborn, it is a universal right — a most appropriate “ask”. Universally is it a most appropriate “demand” of every child, a demand of the man and the woman who brought him into existence.
In the end, the very end, the most valuable reality I bring into the next life is the web of loving relationships I have built; and the greatest concern I will have are the bad relationships I have caused. I am what I have made of my relationships. In the end only love endures. Or hate.