With few exceptions, everything we say and do has a consequence. The consequence may be intended or unintended; it may be natural, unreasonable, or logical. But one thing is sure—we leave a wake on the surface behind us as we wend our way across the watercourses of life.
The significance of consequences has been on my mind as we find ourselves (let us hope) emerging from the worst of the pandemic. Our behaviours and actions over the next several months, both individually and collectively, will generate outcomes we shall either welcome or bemoan.
In most cases, the things we say or do are intentionally-designed to elicit a beneficial response or outcome. For example, we might tell a friend her new dress is beautiful, hoping a similar compliment might be returned. And if that intended consequence does come to pass, we benefit from our actions.
But our actions can lead to consequences we don’t anticipate, as well. For example, if we keep putting off a repair to that leaky toilet, only to find it springs a raging flood in the middle of the night, we shall surely suffer an unintended consequence.
Natural consequences are fairly easy to understand. If I leap off a high bridge, believing I can fly, the natural consequence of my action will quickly disabuse me of that notion. Gravity wins.
There are unreasonable consequences that arise from someone’s words and deeds, too, of course. Washing a child’s mouth out with soap for use of bad language, for example, is not only inappropriate, but usually ineffective. Imposed consequences like that are often applied as punishment, particularly in response to obviously improper behaviour.
Logical consequences are a more common-sense or natural reaction to the actions they follow. For instance, when someone fortunate enough to own a dishwasher forgets to turn it on after supper, they may find a scarcity of clean dishes available for breakfast. On a more positive note, a person who regularly washes his car in the winter is less likely to have a rust problem come spring. In both cases, the outcome logically follows from the original action.
Societal behaviour at large is currently a hot-button issue, of course, because of the varied response we are witnessing to the Covid vaccine availability. It appears that, in most jurisdictions, a majority of people has taken advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated—not only for their own protection, but to reduce the chances of spreading the disease and its malignant variants to others.
But everywhere, there are those who are refusing the vaccine, leading to a wider discussion as to where individual rights intersect with those of the collective good. Does my right not to be vaccinated take precedence over your right to be safe when you and I are in close proximity? Or, if it’s you who insists on remaining unvaccinated, do you have the right to possibly infect me with the disease you may be unwittingly spreading?
Does government have the right to dictate to its citizens in this scenario, citing the common good? Or can every citizen determine a course of action for her- or himself, citing individual freedom? Where does the balance lie in the struggle between the common welfare and individual liberty?
My own opinion on this particular matter is formed more by pragmatism than ideology, leading me to favour the collective good over the individual right. We live in a larger society, after all, and most of us are not sufficiently self-sufficient to survive without the protections and services provided by that society. Certainly I am not.
I live in a condominium community. Before buying my home, I was made aware of the covenants and rules governing residence here. And although there were some requirements I chafed at, I accepted they were part of my agreement to purchase. Nobody forced me to accept those covenants; I accepted them myself when I exercised my free choice to move in or look elsewhere.
By the same token, it’s my belief that no one should be forced to be vaccinated against Covid—unless, of course, the very survival of our society were to be threatened by their refusal. That seems unlikely, given the ‘herd immunity’ we are likely to develop once enough of us are vaccinated.
But I also believe those who choose not to be vaxxed must accept the logical consequences of their free choice. I support businesses, educational institutions, entertainment venues, food providers, transportation providers, public services—any setting where large numbers of people gather in close proximity—who establish guidelines regarding denial of entry to people who have chosen not to get the vaccination, or who refuse to wear masks.
I accept, subject to my earlier proviso, that folks have the right to refuse a vaccine if they so choose. But I do not accept that they also have the right to impose their unvaccinated (and possibly disease-carrying) selves on the rest of us who have acted to protect, not only ourselves, but our families, friends, and fellow-citizens.
I believe we do, as a society, have the right to limit an individual’s rights if they are shown to be harmful to the welfare of others. In so saying, I rely on John Stuart Mill, who wrote—The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.
Alas, we are not all there yet. And so we all bear the consequences.