You may not be able to see them, touch them, feel them, or hold them. You may not be able to even identify them. But they’re there.
Human rights are like the cloud of smoke that lingers only after you’ve lit a cigarette, you can only see them and truly acknowledge their presence once the fire is lit.
We live in a society that places money as a higher value than our own rights and the rights of others. I say that, because even the concept of placing yourself first and loving yourself fully is interlinked with human rights. And so many people just don’t do it.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as prescribed by the United Nations post World War II outlines a list of human rights all global citizens can enjoy. Many people are even unaware of the fact that they have these rights. A right to personhood, a right to life, a right to security of person. Well what about the right to be happy? What about the right to love? What about the right to be you?
If you’ve ever been identified as “different” either by yourself or by others, you’ll know about this personal fight to be yourself. Ask any artist about their journey and I can guarantee you at least 90% of them will recount for you a journey of struggle to be themselves.
It’s funny, because so many of us take our identities for granted. But if you’ve ever met someone who’s had to fight to fully realize their identity, like a Caitlyn Jenner or a person currently without statehood like a Syrian refugee, you’ll quickly learn that identity is not something to be taken for granted.
Who are you?
A mother? A son? A friend?
How do you identify yourself?
First and foremost, you are human. You are a part of this human family. Luckily, on both a moral and legitimate international legal level, you are protected by a standard of treatment by other human beings. This standard of treatment is the essence of human rights.
There are issues with human rights, the greatest one being enforcement. Like most legal entities that are ignored, they only come into play once you’re standing in a courtroom, after a given offense has been committed, but regardless of your circumstances or whereabouts, they are there.
Many of us feel an inclination towards something benevolent, but struggle with identifying the specific cause they wish to promote or pursue. In my journey I found human rights, children’s rights specifically, but you may find another cause that resonates within you. We don’t all have to have a cause, but as human beings, our need to serve and care for one another is stronger than society may want for you to believe.
Yes, we are often selfish beings, but we are also giving ones as well. With the exception of maybe the genuine sociopaths among us majority of human beings possess what I like to call an ‘empathy bone’ in their bodies. And for those of us equipped with that chemical makeup, the concept of human rights should resonate for you.
After studying human rights, and experiencing my own human rights nightmare, I still believe in the concept of human rights. My belief has been tested, but hasn’t waivered. I am a human rights activist, that is part of my identity and part of what I struggle to be in this social experiment we call the human experience. I have felt the full weight of what it means to be a human rights activist and I still fight for your rights and my own on a daily basis.
Why you ask?
Because I believe in what I said before. I believe in the right to be happy. I believe in the right to love. And I believe in the right to be you, whoever that beautiful person might be.
This Human Rights Day I ask that you think about your life, and reflect on the rights you take for granted that so many people worldwide would kill to have,
Do you have fresh running water in your home? Is your abode heated?
Do you have food on your table? Was it cooked on a stove with electricity?
Are you alive today? And did you escape death on more than one occasion?
I can answer yes to all of these questions. Can you?
There are different levels to rights, primary, secondary, civil, economic, and the list goes on. Are you aware of these rights you have? If you’re not, take a second to absorb what it means to possess these rights
In society, we often take Article 19 (my favorite article from the UDHR), the right to freedom of expression for granted. As a writer, and artist, I do not take this right for granted, and you shouldn’t either.
To quote Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
And there lies the agency in our words. There lies the essence of human rights.
As I smoke my last cigarette to accompany writing this article, I watch the smoke rise and remember that my right to do what I want is protected. Like the smoke that is now lingering above me, human rights linger in the same dimension. The question is, do you acknowledge that reality, or do you wish to discredit it and pretend like it’s not there.
The decision to acknowledge human rights is yours, and like in the words of Voltaire, regardless of your perspective, and for the sake of humanity, I may not agree with your perspective, but I will defend to the death your right to have one.
Happy Human Rights Day,
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty