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Rights vs. Needs


*Last update April 15, 2015


My First Writing on Rights vs. Needs in 1996

What if our needs change, but our rights stay the same?

Countries, Borders, Needs, Rights

Where do Rights and Needs Come From

Religion, Politics, Rights, Needs

Crystal's Rights and Needs

United Nations, Needs, Rights

Teens, Rights, Needs, Laws and the Internet

Summary of UN's Children's Rights

"what gives you the right"

About 15,600,000 results

"who gives you the right" - About 6,170,000

"who gives you the need" 2 results

"what gives you the need" About 403,000 results

"where do our needs come from" 7 results

"where do our rights come from" - About 57,700 results

My early writing on Rights vs. Needs

(Reprinted from EQ for Everybody, 1996, Chapter Six, with minor edits)

One of the major problems in democratic societies is the confusion between needs and rights. By helping us understand our emotional needs, emotional intelligence helps us distinguish one from the other. For example, I have a need for sex and intimacy. But few would claim that I have a right to either of these. I also have a need to protect myself. Yet in certain countries I have the "right" to own deadly weapons, while in others I do not. The situation becomes even more complicated when we consider our desires as opposed to our needs. For example, I may desire a certain standard of living, but I do not have a right to any lifestyle I choose--instead I must earn it. So who decides what is a "right," as opposed to a need or a desire?

A need or a desire becomes a "right" only when one group of people decide that it is a right. In democracies, the majority rules, at least theoretically. If, for example, the majority rules that they have a "right" to something, they can literally force others to give it to them. They simply elect leaders who pass laws accordingly. When these laws are put into effect, the full power of the government, which includes deadly force if necessary, enforces these laws.

There are at least two problems with this process of transferring a need to a right:

1. The concept of responsibility is severely compromised.

2. The needs of the minority are neglected in favor of the needs of the majority.

Responsibility is compromised because once something becomes a "right," one no longer has to do anything further to earn it. When a person believes he has a right to something, he feels entitled to it. If he does not receive this entitlement, he believes he has been wronged, cheated, victimized, deprived, and treated unfairly. In most cases, he tends to place blame on the person or group which he believes is responsible for depriving him of his "rights." Logically, he then focuses his energy on asserting his "rights." He does this by making demands and by trying to coerce, manipulate or in some way change the person or persons he holds responsible for his unhappiness.

Since changing others is difficult, if not impossible, he sets himself up to feel frustrated, defeated, controlled, dependent, victimized, and powerless. All of these are direct opposites of the positive feelings needed for happiness. They are all also the opposite of that required for high self-esteem and self-reliance. When a low EQ person feels such negative feelings, he does not know how to soothe himself. Over time, he may feel resentful, bitter, jealous, envious, hopeless, despondent, or depressed. (This brings to mind Freud's definition of depression as "anger turned inward.") Or the "victim" may take out his negative feelings and frustrations on others, either those close to him or total strangers. He may also look for other ways to fulfill his need to feel powerful and in control. In the extreme case, he may turn to rage, random violence, and destruction. In the long run, all of this is not only anti-social, but self-destructive.

The second problem mentioned above is the neglect of the minority's needs. Again, this is particularly relevant to those who are both more intelligent and more sensitive, since they are, by definition, in the minority. In the long run, the social conventions, the laws, the values, the beliefs, and the definition of "rights" will all reflect the majority's needs and desires. To those in the minority, all of this has the potential to cause feelings of being left out, isolated, misunderstood, unsupported, controlled, invalidated, rejected, etc.

The result of these problems is that there will be an increase in irresponsible behavior and a compounding of the natural tendency for groups to subdivide. This subdivision causes them to insulate and isolate themselves. The more the groups separate, the more they misunderstand, fear, resent, and compete with one another. As long as resources are plentiful, this may be a tolerable situation, but if resources become scarce, or even if they are perceived to be scarce, the competition becomes intense and ultimately leads to violence and warfare. What is needed, then, is something to reunite the groups by emphasizing their commonalities. A deeper understanding of our universal human emotional needs is probably a good place to start and it is probably much more helpful than relying on arbitrary declarations of "rights."

What happens when a person's needs and rights conflict?

What happens when a person's needs and rights conflict? For example, what if I have a need to ask questions and to understand but I have no legal "rights" to question them. For example, questioning a police officer or a judge about their feelings, beliefs, or reasons for their decisions?

What happens when a child has a need to understand but his "right" to question the teacher runs out when her patience runs out? (Or when she starts to feel too insecure, too threatened by the questions...)

What happens when a person has a need for sex but he has no "right" to it, even if he is willing to buy it?

What happens when a child, teenager or adult has a need for a hug, but has no "right" to one? And how could we make it a "right" and legally force others to give hugs so everyone's right to hugs would be satisfied?

What happens when someone has a need for emotional support, but no legal "right" to it?

What happens when someone has the need for intelligent answers, but has no "right" to them?

What happens when a customer has a need for restitution from a company but she has no legal "right" to it according to existing laws?

What happens when we try to write laws and policy statements including certain specific "rights" but excluding others?

Who decides what our "rights" are?

What happens when people have the same rights but different needs? - People in very broad groups have the same rights. But their individual needs can be quite different.

What happens when there is a conflict between a person's needs and their rights?

What emotional "rights" does a person have? Do I have a "right" to feel understood? Do I have a "right" to understand? Do I have a "right" to feel respected? Loved? Admired? Helpful? Accepted?

Notes to myself


do I value understanding because I need it or need it because I value it. both

we value status symbols and think we need them

9:12am- what rights does a society have? **

what is the difference between a person's needs and their rights?

Or their needs, their desires, and their rights?

What is a person entitled to? Who ensures that the entitlements are provided?

Where do you direct your attention when a right is unmet?

Whose responsibility is it to see that your rights are met? And whose responsibility is it that your needs are met?

I once found something called the "Relationship Bill of Rights".

Take a look at this list and ask yourself:

- Would it be more helpful to call these needs?

- Who is responsible if the rights in this bill of rights are not met?

- Who can you call to complain to if they are not met?

Relationship Bill of Rights

1. I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

2. I have the right to be free from psychological or physical abuse.

3. I have the right to proper notice and negotiation prior to the relationship being terminated.

4. I have the right to experience my own thoughts and feelings.

5. I have the right to tell my partner honestly and responsibly what I am thinking and feeling, even if my partner does not agree, without being condemned for it.

6. I have the right to have my own life outside of the relationship.

7. I have the right to continue to learn and grow.

8. I have the right to openly talk about and seek to resolve relationship problems.

9. I have the right to end the relationship if it is not meeting my needs.

10. I recognize that my partner has the same rights as I do.

From Getting Love Right, Terrence Gorski.

Notice also that number 10 says my partner has the same rights as I do, but each person will have different needs.

When I look at this list I can picture someone shouting "I have a right to so and so...." and "It is not fair!" Or maybe "You can't do that. I have a right to such and such."

Rights, Needs and Nature

While our needs come from nature, there really are no such things as "rights" in nature.

Rights are a completely man-made fabrication which hark back to the days of kings and subjects. The kings treated the subjects badly so the subjects came up with a list of "rights". The kings agreed to certain "rights" but the kings still kept the power. To this day governments still control the power by deciding what the people's "rights" are.

Rights and the history of the USA

Here is something from the USA. I think it is from the Declaration of Independence, but I have to check since I forgot my 8th grade history lesson on it!

We hold these truth to be self-evident that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness--that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men....

First, I say there is no "Creator," so this nullifies one of the most basic premises/assumptions of the government of the USA. Also, I say there are no inalienable rights, even in nature. For example, we all die, so there is no right to life. We can be imprisoned, so there is no right to liberty, and if we are dead or imprison, we certainly have little chance of pursuing happiness. So the entire beautiful, poetic statement is nothing more than an unrealistic ideal. This fact goes a long way to explain the problems in the USA of so many people feeling entitled and looking for answers in the wrong places.

Another example of the confusion of rights and needs

This is from the book Toxic Parents, by Susan Forward.

Children have basic inalienable rights--to be fed, clothed, sheltered, and protected. But along with these physical rights, they have the right to be nurtured emotionally, to have their feelings respected, and to be treated in ways that allow them to develop a sense of self-worth.

They also have a right:

... to make mistakes, to be disciplined without being physically or emotionally abused.

... to be children. To spend their early years being playful, spontaneous, and irresponsible.

p 31

Here we see one of the problems with confusing needs and rights. The author states that children have certain basic rights. But in her definition of toxic parents she speaks only of the children's and the parents needs. Here is how she describes "toxic parents":

"significantly impaired in their own emotional health; unavailable to meet their children's needs; expect and demand that the children meet the parents needs."

The author can't say "unavailable to meet the children's rights." This wouldn't make sense. It also wouldn't make sense to say that the parents demand that the children meet the parents rights. We don't meet rights. We don't fill rights. We just "have" them.

One person can't fill another person's rights. But does this mean a person's needs are unfillable?

Can needs be taken away?

According to common English usage, I can deny you of your rights. I can peer into your window when you are undressing and rob you of your right to privacy. But we don't talk much about denying a person's needs. We don't say he denied me of my need for privacy.

We also talk about "violating" someone's rights. And we talk about "revoking" someone's rights.

I am not sure what these terms mean exactly. To deny someone of something is something like taking it away from someone. It is also something like stopping a person from obtaining something. I am not sure what violating a right is like.

I do know that we don't talk about violating someone's needs or revoking someone of their needs. We can't take a person's need away from them. We can stop them from getting their need met, but we can't take the need away.

Consider a teacher and a student who wants to get up and get a drink of water. The teacher can take away the student's right to get up, leave class and get a drink of water, but she can't take away his need for the water.

So this is a basic difference between rights and needs.

Needs can't be taken away.

Rights are not gifts given by governments.

Here is a quote I found once:

Rights are not gifts given by governments.

Nobody can "give" rights. They already belong to the individual.

From EST The Steersman Handbook, L. Clark Stevens. Bantam. New York, 1971, page p 93, 94


The State, both in its genesis and by its primary intention, is purely anti-social. It is not based on the idea of natural rights, but on the idea that the individual has no rights except those that the State may provisionally grant him. -- Albert J. Nock

Every child has an inalienable right to be bonded in welcoming arms, kindly initiated into a caring culture, allowed to play freely in the senses and imagination. -- Sam Keen

United Nations, Needs, Rights

I just checked the a copy of a summary of the United Nations Rights of Children for the word "needs." Nowhere was it found I had looked over some UN pages before to see if they talked about needs, or emotional needs in particular and found they had almost no mention of either one.

This reminds me that there is a lot of work to do in changing the mindset from one of "rights" to "needs".

S. Hein
May 14, 2007
Buenos Aires

Note to Steve - this was linked to cara1.htm but I am not sure why.. also that page is not complete.

Crystal's Rights and Needs

Crystal is a teen who has tried to kill herself. She has been ordered to live in what is called a treatment center. When she arrived there she was given a list of her rights. But she was never asked to give them a list of her needs. Also, to the best of my knowledge, no one else has ever given them a list of Crystal's needs either.

What happens when there is a conflict between her needs and her rights?

In my experience, her needs go unmet, and this creates an infinite number of problems for both people like Crystal, and for the rest of society.

S. Hein
August 23, 2007

Reading someone their rights

- If our rights our inalienable, then why do we need someone to read them to us?

- Who makes up these lists? And, importantly, why do they make them? To help us or to control us?

Some of my early thinking about rights in the USA

-- July 23, 1999 from my journal writing

I suppose fires were one way of determining who was responsible and who wasn't a million years ago. Because it is power. As I have said in my journal many times, give someone power and see what they do with it. But don't give it to them too quickly. You don't give a monkey a machine gun if he can't use a pistol responsibly. (this is also why we don't let kids play with matches- so all of history mankind has been concerned about access to, distribution, use and abuse of power.

What we have done is given too many people too much power too quickly. **

And we have told them it is their "right" to have it! What a mess we have made, we humans, we intelligent humans. I wonder what TJ would say if he came back today? (Thomas Jefferson)

thinking more about rights...

Voting rights for example. Would we let a group of uneducated people vote on whether to blow up another country with nuclear weapons? No. But how much voting power do we give to people? The power to decide who will be the President is a lot of power. Too much, I believe. First we need to see what they have done with the power they already have. **

aug 2001 - does every child have a right to water? Most will say yes. Next question. How much water does he have a right to? And does every child need as much water as every other child? Are everyone's needs equal?

Countries, Borders, Needs, Rights

Just a note about this:

A person's rights change when they cross a border and move from one country to another. But do their natural needs also change at the same time?

Rights, Needs, Control -

Rights, Needs, and Control

I was talking to someone yesterday about how children and teenagers have few legal rights. This made me wonder what would happen if you no legal rights at all. For a quick answer to this question we could consider what life was like for black slaves in America.

How much water does a child have a right to? The answer most people would give is "As much as it needs."

How does a child know what its needs are? Its body tells it. But how does it know what its rights are? Its parents tell it.

How do you know what your emotional and physical needs are? Your body tells you. How do you know what your rights are? Somebody else tells you.

Who knows what your needs are? Who knows what your rights are?

The UN has a list of rights for children. So does the UN know what your child needs?

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I have been thinking about rights vs. needs for a long time - since about 1995. I haven't done much writing on it but sometimes I think it may be one of the most important contributions I can make to improving society. I haven't done much to publicize my thoughts about rights vs. needs, but I want to at least write a little more about it today.

S. P. Hein
Cajamarca, Peru
Oct 22, 2005

What if needs change but rights remain the same?

The other day I was talking with Jerren about a suicidal 17 year old in the USA. He said it seemed like she had virtually the same rights as a 5 year old child.

This helped me see that there is another problem with confusing rights and needs. It is the problem of what happens when a person's needs change but their rights remain the same.

The 17 year old has very different needs now than she did when she was 5. But it seems that the laws in the USA treat her almost the same as if she were still 5. I think this is true in most countries around the world. But in some countries 16 year olds have more "rights" than 16 year olds do in the USA. For example, I believe 16 year olds in England, Australia and Canada are legally free to move away from their parents. In other words they have the "right" to decide where they want to live, with the exception of living in another country.

I don't think a 16 year old in any country can get a passport without their parent's permission. So if a 16 or 17 year old has the need to live in another culture, it doesn't matter. What matters is whether they have a legal right to get a passport. Or more simply put, it doesn't matter if they have a need for more freedom. Their needs are always less important to the people who make the laws and control the weapons and jails than are their "rights."

Where do Rights and Needs Come From

Where do needs come from

- They come from nature

Where do rights come from?

- They come from people

So we can say, "Rights come from people. Needs come nature."

S. Hein
Nov 2011

Telling someone "I have a right to.." means nothing if the person you say it to has power over you and doesn't agree.  
If you realize you have needs, it will be easier for you to understand others also have needs. It will be easier to consider their needs and work towards some mutually agreeable solutions which satisfied your needs and their needs than if you just say "I have a right to such and such."  
See The Need for Privacy  
Two Boxers

If, before a boxing match, one younger boxer says to the older champion, "I have a right to the title of World Champion," it would make little or no sense. The older boxer might understandably say, "You must fight for it. You must earn it."

Needs, however, are not earned. You are born with needs. Not rights.

If you are not born in France, you have no "rights" to the things the French government gives you, such as a French passport.

On an Island

It would make no sense to stand alone on an island and shout "I have a right to food!"

Needs are not earned.  
The right to learn - from the Detroit HS video. The school is sending teens home if they are a few minutes late, thus denying them of the "right" to learn. But the school can say, "It is a privilege, not a right."

Then you are left to arguing or debating about what is a right and what is a privilege. In the end, those with the most power are most likely to prevail at the end of the day. But no matter what they call something, it doesn't take away a person's need for it.

A society must meet the natural human needs of young people or that society will self-destruct with time. Playing word games, such as saying "No, it is a privilege" will only last so long. In the end, nature will ultimately guide us to know our true, natural, uncorrupted, and unmanipulated needs.

From his speech ---I’m really pissed that kids who do try to come to school but show up a few minutes late get sent home, given suspensions, and denied their right to learn. We’re being pushed out before we ever get in.
May 2012

Some people say that if someone has broken a law or committed a crime then they "give up their rights" to such and such. But it doesn't make sense to say a person "gives up his needs" for so and so. That person still has the same needs, along with more if they are arrested, jailed, fined etc.

Right or need?

All children have the right to do the following:

  1. Go to the toilet when needed.
  2. Have drinking water available.
  3. Move the body when needed.
  4. Learn to take care of personal needs.
  5. Learn and process emotions through play.
  6. Learn through exploration, trial, and error.
  7. Make mistakes and not be judged or shamed.
  8. Learn at a personal pace.
  9. Fully understand a subject before being tested.
  10. Not to be tested involuntarily. Instead, share knowledge by free choice, only when ready to receive feedback on learning progress.
  11. Not to be punished. Instead, children should be respectfully encouraged to become more self-disciplined.
  12. Not to be compared with peers. Instead, acknowledged as an individual student with individual talents, opinions, and characteristics.
  13. Not to be judged for being different.
Right to bear arms vs need to defend ourselves.

Found this... We have the Constitutional Right to Bear Arms and Defend Ourselves"


"Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest. Gandhi

We could change that to... "depriving a whole nation of it's ability to defend itself." And extend it to "ability to protest." and to "feel any negative feelings." Or "express any negative feelings" or "act upon any negative feelings."

Example, if the goal is to buld the pyramid, nothing opposing that goal is permitted. Any oposition is punished or eliminated.

We are motivated by needs, not rights  
You can take away rights. In some countries, such as the USA, important legal documents, such as the xxx of the USA states that rights are "unalienable". In other words, they can't be taken away. But we simply have to consider a prisoner to realize that rights can be taken away.

Needs on the other hand, are filled, not given, granted, taken away. You can take away a person's right to something, but not his or her need for it.

Jan 2015 - Something from my journal (S. Hein)

Most of the world's national borders are a result of violence, killing and what the British called the law of conquest.

So I find this from wiki - banned me for life - pedia

The right of conquest is the right of a conqueror to territory taken by force of arms. It was traditionally a principle of international law which has in modern times gradually given way until its proscription after the Second World War when the crime of war of aggression was first codified in the Nuremberg Principles and then finally, in 1974, as a United Nations resolution 3314.

The article also says

the right was traditionally accepted because the conquering force, being by definition stronger than any lawfully entitled governance which it may have replaced, was therefore more likely to secure peace and stability for the people, and so the Right of Conquest legitimises the conqueror towards that end.

What? Who would believe this? This is like saying the guy who is most violent can have the "right" to the girl he wants to have sex with and then it is not rape because it has been "legitimized." S. Hein

April 15, 2015

Truth. Is the truth important? I would say it i. So let's see what happen when we try a couple of searches.

"Do people have a right to the truth?" 0 Results as of today in Google.

"Do people have a right to know the truth?" 4 Results as of today in Google.

So what this tells me is not many people have thought about this question.

There were just a few results for "do people need to know the truth", but at least there were some.


I thought of this when I was thinking about Delma who was evicted from her house, and put in a holding cell, with no "right" to talk to her partner or family. I keep wondering why. Why she was selected. Why so many other familes are not being evicted. Why her? Why wasn't she allowed to talk to her partner or son when they went to visit her?

Why was she only given 24 hours to leave her house?

I believe people need satisfying answers. I have talked about this in my writing abou "intelligent answers." Some people might be satisfied with lies. But in general I would say we need truthful answers and we need to know the truth to make healthy decisions and to solve problems. Yet it is another of the many things we need but don't have a "right" to. I can't for example, force or demand the judge to answer my questions, nor to force him to answer truthfully. I could try but that would be very complicated. This reminds me that governments have made things complicated. I don't think human relationships need to be so complicated.

I really wonder, ,what if we had all been raised in cultures with helpful, caring governments, not controlling ones? not abusive ones?