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International Human Rights Day: A Meaning for a Change

Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.


Today was International Human Rights Day and I thought I’d give some reflection as to what I feel that means and its impact on humanity as a whole. On the surface, just assigning a name to a day of the year does not really accomplish much. There are still struggles going on across the globe. However the importance isn’t in the name but rather that what the name itself represents. To truly appreciate that, one must look at where we came from.

A Lot of Baggage

The story of the human race is motivated by survival. As gorgeous as nature can be, the fact remains that elements of it can and often do kill us. Harsh living with creates harsh communities that did what they had to do to survive. As we became more settle, those harsh lessons transferred into social rules. The goal of those rules was for the survival of the community. No matter how complicated the political and economic situations that inspired conflict, the seed of it all was always to extend some form of survival. So that behaviors we abhor today: prejudice against those not our own, sexism for women to occupy rules ensuring community survival, war and theft to take resources needed to survive and then later, prosper. And lastly, varying levels of brutality to ensure the previous goals are met.

It’s an over simplification for a underlying and simple, historical reality. The Egyptians, Greek, and Hittite civilizations of antiquity warred with other empires and each other to expand their communities power so they could outlast the other and prosper. The Chin Dynasty’s ruthless conquest of a divided Asia to unify the divided Asia mainland under one system and political rule to form China was for the larger communities to survive. The recognition of slavery throughout every major civilization until the 19th century, and the industrial revolution’s ruthless treatment of its workers were all done for the survival and prosperity the nations.

These are just some of the many examples of how human beings have treated each other. And they happened because human rights as a universal concept of respect did not exist. It was not a part of the natural order and it was acknowledged that the weak die off in favor of the strong. Whether the strongest was of race, gender, nationality, orientation, or religion, the results were always the same: survival of the fittest.

Trying to Rise Above

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The human race was a different breed back then. Some today argue that they were tougher and others that they were more unified by common purpose rather than being pulled apart internally in several directions.

There were attempts to change, some with moderate success. Some religions Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam in certain aspects tried to introduce higher moralities to inspire their other to think beyond survival and themselves under their banner. Laws were introduced as early as the Sumerian civilization during the Bronze Age to bring about some sense of order that was not rooted in natural instinct. Some groups in Japan developed a system of honor that went beyond their own survival. The Red Cross was created in 1881 C.E. to provided humanitarian assistance to locations in dire need or at war throughout the entire world and was internationally recognized as a non-biased organization.

So a higher sense of morality has been evolving alongside the human race. While most of the world populations live in circumstances not remotely similar to Manhattan, LA, or Paris, our lot is not so much about survival as it is just trying to live well and be seen as human beings by others. If it is about survival though is not about the people fighting nature as it is people fighting people. With one or both sides still holding onto to our barbaric sensibilities dressed over by greed, politics, and economics. The other group trying to leave it behind or live out moderation between maintaining past values without the violence and injustice. Our attempts to be better have always been limited by corruption, natural bias, and circumstances beyond our control. And until about 1945, we still accepted it as inevitable.

After World War Two, with the world wide dead numbering between fifty and eighty million people, the world started wanting something more. Seeing ‘inevitability’ play itself out to its full extent awoke for the first time within humanity the need to be better than inevitable. Of course, tragedies are still laying themselves out and our attempts despite recognizing the need to rise above are still struggles with obstacles that have existed sense our beginnings.

That is the importance of International Human Rights Day.

What’s the Point?

The day represents Humanity recognizing that we are more than our faults. It recognizes that we have and can still be more than a series of reactions to the need of self-preservation. It sets a goal for us to reach that while it won’t happen today, next year, or perhaps next century, the struggle to get there does leave us better than where we were at. Whether that’s with the Rohingya refugees or the student you see being bullied in your school. All of these are steps to the hope of a better future.

© 2017 Jamal Smith

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