How About a Bill of Responsibilities?

 “Your rights stop where your siblings’ rights start!”

That was one of the dad-isms I grew up with as my parents guided my four brothers and me in sharing rooms, sharing the only television, sharing desserts, and sharing the family car. I opened my book Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences with a tale of how it helped my older brothers navigate whether we were going to watch The Beatles premiere on The Ed Sullivan Show (my brothers are much older than me) or an episode of Get Smart as usual. 

Have you noted, though, that our society seems preoccupied with our rights?

For example, as I was writing that book, a middle school social studies teacher told me, “These students know their rights, all right. But they are clueless about their responsibilities.” 

Yesterday, a school leader related how a parent wanted an exception made for her child, and for her convenience, to a district-wide rule. Even though treating her child differently would have disrupted learning for every other child in the classroom, the parent took it up the chain of command to the district office and still claimed she was being treated unfairly. Have you seen this play out in ways large and small? We have a societal epidemic of being aware of our rights and less aware of our responsibilities to each other. 

Yes, we have rights, but they are intertwined with the rights of others.

Individual freedom is intertwined with community safety. Citizens’ rights are intertwined with citizens’ responsibilities. We study the Bill of Rights. What if it were intertwined with a similar Bill of Responsibilities?

In Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences, I proposed helping students see where their rights stop using the “map” included below. How might you use this framework that celebrates the value of both sides while also highlighting the downsides of each “position.” With family, with teams, with other stakeholders? 

Imagine mapping other interdependencies or polarities:

  • Individual and Team
  • Academics and SEL
  • Short-term and Long-term
  • Outcomes and People

You see, these polarities are systems. And in systems, if you over-focus on either pole to the neglect of the other, you get the downside of both. Where, in our reality, are you seeing this play out? What conversation might you have so that everyone sees the true common purpose and begins to channel all the negative energy into moving forward together? 

Based on the polarity thinking work of Barry Johnson and

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Jane Kise

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.