Today is Human Rights Day.
One of those UN Holidays that is super relevant if you are a copywriter for a large international nonprofit organization, but probably completely off your radar if you are not.
There are many of these days, these minor holidays, that go by unnoticed by the vast majority of everyone, taking their too-long names and bulky “celebrations” of hard, huge policy drivers with them (International Day of the Girl Child, anyone?).
Yet Human Rights Day feels relevant.
It feels important.
Yes, of course, because of the “rights” part. We need to keep fighting for those, even when the fight feels hard or downright impossible. We are in desperate need of freedom and dignity and justice.
Take a minute to read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the document drafted by a global council of UN representatives 70 years ago today. These are the metrics. These are the end goals. These are the reminders that we aren’t there yet—not even close.
The Declaration outlines the rights that we should all hold—and today, in 2017, 70 years after its authoring, is more relevant than ever.
But this Human Rights Day, I’m thinking of the other part of the title.
The “human” part.
Because I think that is where we fell apart.
We have lost sight our shared humanity. We have forgotten the very core truth that at the end of the day, a human is a human, regardless of anything else.
Instead of addressing everyone as a fellow human, we immediately look for characteristics to distinguish their experiences from our own—to have something upon which to peg our guttural need for us/them.
They speak a different language.
They live in a different neighborhood.
They practice a different religion.
They have less money.
They have more money.
They eat different foods or attended different schools or look different than I do. They celebrate different holidays or wear different clothes. They voted for the other candidate.
We are not the same.
Nor should we be. There is beauty in our diverse experiences—our varied ways of experiencing and interacting with the world. And we grow by learning from those whose lives look different from our own.
But what would happen if, before we got to all the ways we are unique, we started from the place that we are similar? What if we started from our human-ness?
What if we addressed everyone—even those whose beliefs and practices and behaviors run so wildly, fundamentally opposite to our own—as humans first?
What if we looked people in the eye, pursued conversation, and asked questions? What if we sought to understand instead of convict, pursued empathy instead of being right?
What if, in order to address and achieve universal rights, we must first address and achieve universal human-ness?
I don’t know if this is the answer, but I do know that it is a place that I can start. I can treat strangers as neighbors and neighbors as friends. I can smile and say hello and fight against my instincts to avoid, ignore, and judge.
I can recognize my own humanity, and then seek that same core human-ness in everyone else. Even in those with whom I disagree. Especially in those with whom I disagree.
It’s hard and it’s unnatural, but I am more and more convinced that it is good and right.
And this Human Rights Day is the reminder I need that something good and right is worth fighting for.