Five things that are not human rights

Many of the ‘rights’ we commonly assume we’re entitled to are more accurately things that have to earned – or are merely nice to have. Here are a few examples that I hear rather too frequently.

The right not to be offended by anything. How often do we hear this? It seems like every twenty-minutes or so there are calls for a new public lynching of someone who has said something ‘offensive’ in an interview, an article, or a social media post. The outrage! The insult! Get them fired, run them out of town, haul them in front of the Human Rights Commission.

Not to be offended by the opinions – or bad jokes – of others is not a human right. Just about everything is going to be offensive to somebody. (And there are some people who are offended by just about everything.) You know what is a human right? Freedom of expression. Let people express themselves. If they offend you, good. Now you know who not to hang out with or listen to anymore.

The right to be heard. While freedom of expression is a right, that doesn’t mean other people are in any way obligated to listen to you expressing yourself. You can crack your offensive jokes, share your conspiracy theories, and drone on at length about your political beliefs or religious revelations, but nobody else has to take you seriously. (Or invite you to another barbecue, Uncle Tony.)

You have the right to speak, but you have to earn an audience. Be eloquent, be interesting or be entertaining – or else you’re probably just talking to yourself.

The right not to be judged by the choices you make. There are many situations where this comes up, but the issue of appearance in the workplace or when applying for a job is top of mind for me. That is because it has come up time and again over the course of my career as the editor of both and The argument basically is that people have the right to have whatever clothing and hairstyles, tattoos and piercings they want, and since those choices are unrelated to their talent, they shouldn’t affect their career potential.

That’s not the way the world works. Yes, you have the right to tattoo a spider web on your neck and wear a bull ring through your nose. Employers have the right to not hire you for that reason. They’re building a brand, creating a workplace culture, and when they first meet a potential hire, they use all of the information at their disposal to determine a good fit. What you wear and how you ornament yourself are fair game.

You have freedom of choice, but those choices still have consequences.

Job security is not a human right. You hear this kind of complaint all the time: “I’ve worked here for ten years, and Bob has only been here for two, and now he’s been promoted and given a raise. It’s not fair.” You know what? If Bob has more skills than you, works harder than you, and delivers more results than you, then of course it is fair.

Compensation, advancement, and job security shouldn’t be the rewards of simply showing up. Occupying space isn’t an accomplishment. The only real job security (unless of course you’re a unionized public sector worker) comes from continuous learning and excelling in your field.

You have to earn a living. You have to work for it.

(I only wish this were also true for unionized public sector workers.)

Dessert with every meal. This last one might just be for my five-year-old son specifically. Sit at the table, stay in your chair for the whole meal. Use your fork properly, and eat your entire dinner. Then maybe we can talk about ice cream. Treats aren’t a human right – despite tantrums and protests to the contrary – they have to be earned.