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Rights and responsibilities! Can they be separated?

I was once at a dinner party with two other couples whom all spoke Greek.  One of the people in attendance began to speak in Greek. My husband and I listened patiently, with no understanding of what they were talking about.  Suddenly one of our friends, declared in English, ‘Stop speaking Greek.  It is not respectful to speak in a language that our friends do not understand.  We want to include them in the conversation’.

At a recent workshop that I was facilitating on Leadership, a question arose that reminded me of the previously mentioned dinner party.  An educator asked me if I thought it was OK for two educators to sit in a staff room at work and speak to another staff member in a language other than English. They kept glancing at her, and she presumed they were talking about her.  She felt excluded. 

So, I put the question to social media to consider the many perspectives that people may have before writing this blog.  The responses were quick to arrive with most responses referencing the right of educators to speak in their own language.  There was a reference to the Human Rights legislation, another about English not being the language native to Australia and another to educators using their native language to explain things to each other in the workplace. All interesting points.  However, what have we forgotten?

In post-modern ethics of care paradigm, a right does not exist on its own.  There is no hierarchy of rights, and no one's right is more important than another person’s right.  A right can only exist in relationship with responsibility. Let me give you some examples of what this ethic looks like in an early education and care service:

If a child has a right to be safe, that child also has a responsibility to ensure that other children in the group’s right to be safe, are honoured.

If a child has a right to a well-resourced learning environment, that child also has a responsibility to ensure that they look after that environment so that the other children in the group’s right to a well-resourced learning environment, is honoured. 

So, in the case of people speaking a language other than English in the lunchroom in the workplace, I would say this.  Yes, they do have the right to speak in their own language but do they also have a responsibility to ensure that others in the staff room do not feel excluded? Is the consideration of others what constitutes and contributes to respectful relationships in the workplace?

One response to my Early Childhood Hub post involved a team that sat down together and talked through the different perspectives before coming up with a mutually agreed resolution.  I do not think there is one answer to this issue and I applaud this team for using ethical resolutions in their practice. 

What critical reflection processes do you and your team undertake to tackle ethical and sometimes contentious issues in the workplace where everyone has rights and responsibilities?