Saturday, September 30, 2017

Where Do Human Rights Come From?

I know enough to know how little I know.  There's a much deeper history for human rights than I'm aware of or have studied. 

Where I take my inspiration, for the most part, is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 
The Universal Declaration came out of the United Nations shortly after World War II. Unlike many other human rights agreements, the Universal Declaration did not create any treaty obligations (binding law) between the countries that signed it.

That was intentional. Eleanor Roosevelt lobbied long and hard to keep the Universal Declaration an aspirational document.  She hoped it would become an international equivalent to the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  She envisioned it being adopted and adapted by peoples and causes worldwide in their search for social justice.

That certainly has happened for me.  When I first read the Universal Declaration about 7 years ago, it struck me as a kind of secular spirituality for people of conscience.  I have tried to live and practice it that way ever since.

Again and again, I find myself going back to the Universal Declaration and its principles.  It has inspired me and helped me begin to articulate a way forward and out of a lot of the damaging thinking, labeling and ways of treating others that I internalized from the dominant culture. 

For myself, I was desperate to find another way.  It was literally life and death.  The American values and vision of an upwardly mobile future did not inspire me to keep living - even if I could have accessed them.  I also needed to find a way to relate to the chaos and conflict I so often encountered - both within myself and outside.  The Universal Declaration gave me both of these things and much much more. 

That, for me, is one of the strengths of the Universal Declaration.  It is flexible enough for me to apply and interpret in my own way.  But it also carries a good deal of "face validity" (common sense, intuitive appeal), as well as international authority.

The Universal Declaration has been approved and endorsed by nations around the world. It articulates a common standard for all people everywhere. It offers a road map for humankind to begin to create enduring freedom, justice and peace worldwide. Every person and every nation is asked to support the Universal Declaration and its vision.  No matter who we are, what we do, or what circumstances life has thrown our way, we are all asked to do what we can to insure that human rights are understood and accessible to all.

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