“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home–so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
On October 16th, 2013, bloggers throughout the world will be post their thoughts on the Blog Action Day topic of Human Rights. I’ve been thinking about what I could possibly say since I signed up to take part. Human Rights. The rights of all humans. The rights you have because you’re human. It seems overwhelming. There are organizations set up to deal with Human Rights even one that’s part of the United Nations, if I’m not mistaken.
Those large organizations deal with modern day slavery of several varieties, indentured servitude, torture, genocides, repressive regimes, starving children, abuses of power of many sorts, bigotry, and hatred. Mankind has not yet left behind its hatred and fear of the different, the non-conforming, the ‘other’.
What can any one human being do to better the world, their country, their community regarding the recognition that everyone has certain inalienable rights that can not be abridged or denied? How can any one person do anything that matters?
This is where we have to read the above quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. We, as individuals, begin with where we live — in our homes, our jobs, our communities. Everyone of us must strive to live as if everyone we meet is a human worthy of respect and courtesy, irregardless of income, skin color, religion, educational level, employment status, gender, or sexual orientation.
I looked up the definitions of Human Rights and found the following:
Dictionary Definition: human rights (noun) fundamental rights, especially those believed to belong to an individual and in whose exercise a government may not interfere, as the rights to speak, associate, work, etc. Also, the rights of individuals to liberty, justice, etc.
Cultural Definition: Freedom from arbitrary interference or restriction by governments. The term encompasses largely the same rights called civil liberties or civil rights but often suggests rights that have not been recognized.
You see the problem with ‘rights’ of any sort is that if they can be taken away, they are not rights. Some people see ‘rights’ as being only for certain people not everyone. But the rights to speak, associate, work, etc. and to liberty, justice, and safety are for everyone. If only one group has a right then it’s not a right — it’s a privilege that only a few possess.
The problem is that many people, who probably should know better, believe that some people are better than others and deserve these rights, and that other people, because of income, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, are somehow lesser beings and should not have the rights and privileges that they have. Your rights are not belittled just because everyone else has the same rights as you do.
I saw a YouTube video last week where actors played the part of an angry bigot and a worker who appeared to be of middle eastern descent in a quickie mart type store. When the store had a few customers the young man playing the ‘bigot’ would approach the counter and demand to be waited on by a ‘real’ American and then berate the young man behind the counter for terrorism, taking American jobs, and not being fit to wait on him. It was pretty ugly. The thing that struck me was that of the six or more times they ran this scenario, only 2 people came up to the ranting young man and asked him to leave because he was disrupting the place and being unAmerican in his behavior. They stood up to him and forced him to back down by saying what he was doing and saying wasn’t right and it belittled the country and him. When questioned about their standing up for the young man behind the counter after they left the store by the director each of them said, “It was the right thing to do and someone had to stand up for him.”
The above is one way that an individual can stand up for Human Rights in their small way in their communities.
When a homeless person stops you in the street, actually look them in the eye and reply in kindness if you can’t afford to offer any assistance. Mostly they want recognition that they exist beyond the help in getting a meal or a place to sleep for the night.
When you see someone being bullied, don’t just turn away, do something. Report it to an authority if you don’t feel comfortable stepping into the situation.
Don’t walk away when someone is being injured, insulted, hurt, abused, or exploited. Try to find a way to help even if that is only reporting the incident.
Make an effort to recognize your own prejudices and biases. I do my best, but I know I have them, and it’s often a constant battle to overcome some of the habits of thought that I’ve fallen into. All humans are equal no matter what they look like. If we were all the same, life and the world would be one heck of a boring place.
Every day, try to treat all those you meet throughout the day as equals who deserve respect and courtesy even if they don’t look or think as you do. (That also includes your family members. And this can be the hardest part of doing your best to support Human Rights.)
Pay attention to politics. Educate yourself on the issues and vote. Recently, the equal pay for equal work bill (Lilly Ledbetter Bill) was voted down in the United States. Also, voted down was the Violence Against Women act. Shouldn’t women as well as men be protected from violence?
Act locally and in your community to make it a safer, fairer, and more egalitarian part of the world. Every act and every action adds up and eventually we will have a world where all humans have equality with every other citizen of the world.