But is it possible that you walked past a human rights violation on your way to work this morning? Is it possible that you know about human rights violations going on in your hometown and do not even realize it? And is it possible that your very own human rights or the human rights of your children, parents, grandparents, or friends are being violated?
Human rights are more basic than most people realize—they are nothing more than the fundamentals that all human beings need.
If you sat down and made a list of what you personally need to have in place in your life in order to be able to think beyond your survival and actually reach your potential, what would it include?
First, think about what you need in order to have what you would call “a good day.” You need to feel well, as in, not be sick, you need to have enough to eat, you need to have a job to go to that pays you well enough to survive and care for your family, you need to have a home to go to after work, and you need to feel that you are not invisible or voiceless—if someone hurts you or if you are suffering, you need to be able to do something about it. But let’s be honest, having “a good day,” for most people I know, is much more than that—we need to feel happy, to be effective and respected at work, to be praised by employers and spouses, to eat something more than a plain bowl of rice, to enjoy some form of entertainment, and to have time to exercise and relax.
Though in fact the right to rest and leisure is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it would be impossible to ensure that everyone has everything every day that makes them “happy,” so let’s ask a more basic question: what is absolutely necessary for all human beings to have in order to thrive and even get to the point that they can think about what makes them happy? Housing is probably the most obvious fundamental need, along with health. A safe and secure environment is a necessity, as is employment. And you need to have an education in order to find employment and provide for yourself and your family.
So really, human rights are not as lofty or vague as they seem. But despite this fact, many people in the U.S. are still living without their human rights. Those of us without health insurance who cannot go to the doctor when we are sick, those of us who have to send our children to under-funded and neglected schools, those of us who breathe poisoned air from nearby factories, and those of us who face abuse and discrimination at work are all suffering human rights violations. Not only do these violations offend the fundamental ideals upon which our nation was built, but they offend a universal sense of how human beings should be treated, as written in the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But until we can get past our hang-up with the phrase “human rights,” we will never be able to recognize, as a society, that even in America our human rights are being neglected. What is more, until we embrace the concept of human rights as having an application in our daily lives, we will never be able to stand up for what our families, our children, and our friends and neighbors deserve—to be treated like human beings.