My Prerogative

“Man is not, by nature, deserving of all that he wants. When we think that we are automatically entitled to something, that is when we start walking all over others to get it.”

Criss Jami

My greatest concern as I watch the events of this last election cycle unfold is not who is in the Oval Office or who controls this or that house. Regardless of where one’s ideologies lie, we have all survived periods when others had the upper hand. The beauty of our republic is its ability to allow for dissent between the people and those who are elected to serve in the governing of us all.

What concerns me is the way our dissent has transformed.

In the late 1980’s, Bobby Brown had a hit song called, “My Prerogative.” In it he sings:

I don't need permission
Make my own decisions
That's my prerogative
It's my prerogative
It's the way that I wanna live
It's my prerogative
I can do just what I feel
It's my prerogative
No one can tell me what to do
It's my prerogative

The word prerogative comes to us from late Middle English via Old French from the Latin word “praerogativa” which was the verdict of the political division which was chosen to vote first in the assembly. It is, according to my dictionary, “a right or privilege exclusive to a particular individual or class,” and it seems to define the way many people are positioning themselves these days. As I watched the interactions between people, from the candidates themselves to individuals both in person and on social media, what I repeatedly saw was a form of entitlement and a lack of gratefulness, humility, or acknowledgement of the intrinsic and equal value of all.

What concerns me is that people equate “I want” with “my right.”

As the quote at the beginning states, when we lose our humility and begin to see ourselves as unique and particular, we also begin to see others as “less than” and therefore less worthy of care and respect. The lack of respect we have seen in the interactions between people is merely a symptom of a deeper illness—the cancer of selfishness and arrogance. I should be quick to point out that this is not a new malady among us.

When Jesus was on the earth over 2000 years ago, he addressed this very thing. He said, among other things, that the key to true greatness wasn’t in getting what you wanted for yourself; rather, it was in serving others and making sure their needs (physical, mental and emotional) were met. He said the most powerful person was the one who was the servant of all. He said that in front of people who were very much into “prerogative.” They didn’t just think they were right; they hated people who disagreed with them in either word or action.

What concerns me is the lack of capacity to disagree and still love.

The basis for relationship is mutual care (love) and the ability to compromise (respect). If I want to have a relationship with someone, I must love them enough to make their needs and desires at least as important as mine. When we don’t agree, or have conflicting interests, I must have enough respect for the other person to hear them, attempt to understand their position, and then be willing to compromise. I am not required to give up my beliefs, ignore or invalidate my feelings, or subject myself to harm. I am required to see the other person as human and as possessing the same potential I have to be right and wrong.

The basis for society is relationships. We come together in community because we need each other. For those communities to thrive, relationships must thrive. So, there must be love and respect in our communities. Love and respect (and the humility and gratefulness that accompany them) are the cure for the disease of selfishness and arrogance that kills relationships and community. Unfortunately, there seems to be more disease than cure these days.

At the end of my life, I very much doubt I will recall this election. I doubt my greatest concern will be whether my preferred political agenda was successful or not. I can’t imagine that I will be preoccupied with the number of people that agreed or disagreed with me on Facebook. I hope that as my life draws to a close, I will look back and be warmed by all the people I have known and loved. People from all walks of life who had stories that were different from my own. People who cared about me (and I them) even when we didn’t agree. People who gave me the opportunity to learn and grow and be challenged. People. I hope my life is about people.

It is not about my prerogative; it is about my responsibility. I am responsible to love and respect other people. I am not unique or in a special class that has some right to have my way. Rather, I am one of many, and my privilege is to care and compromise so relationships are nurtured and grow. It is in this endeavor of serving others that I achieve real success and experience real fulfillment, and it is The Kimray Way. 

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