Born Free and Equal: Human Rights Day

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

-A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan wrote these words more than half a century ago, but they remain, as always, perilously relevant.  Patti Smith performed it today while accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature on Dylan's behalf, and the timely parallels were clear and overwhelming; painful and hopeful. 

And today, International Humans Rights Day, so designated to remember the date of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we can also see our way through in the same manner: clear, overwhelming, painful, and hopeful. 

The message is not timely because of a sudden increase of human rights violations and crimes against humanity. The message is timely, because human rights violations and crimes against humanity have continued to persist since the beginning of humans. Since the first human disenfranchised another human through greed, self-interest, or fear (and really doesn't it always come from fear?), humans have trampled on the intrinsic humanity of one another whenever possible. 

"Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

-The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Humans write these words; humans ratify these words; humans follow these words; and humans destroy these words. 

We know that the world is only as just as there is justice for every person: for the disenfranchised and the exploited, and for the powerful and the abusers. 

On this Human Rights Day, I make a survey of the pain in this world and it crushes me. There is too much. It cannot be done. I am useless. 

But, then, I am reminded that I am not here to save everyone. I am not here to save anyone. We are not here to save--but to love. 

Perhaps, you are overwhelmed today by the injustice around you. Perhaps, you feel hollowed out, because you recognize that close family members and friends are participating in that injustice. Perhaps, you are bent under the guilt of your own complicity in serving injustice. 

That's real. Stare that knowledge straight on, and understand it. Accept the consequences.

And, then, as my sister would tell me, do the next right and good thing in front of you today. 

Stopping crimes against humanity and protecting human rights are the ultimate purposes, but we cannot be overwhelmed by the insurmountable nature of these opaque and somehow vague goals. 

Instead, we must each do what we can. Bob Dylan wrote, "I'll know my song well before I start singin.'" We each have a song. The individual passions and pains which drive our empathy and pursuit of justice.

I am always glad when I hear someone's fight for justice and it is something I had never considered. I am glad, because that means someone else is fighting for something that I would have let slip through the cracks. 

So, know your fight (and you can have more than one), because you are needed. 

"If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person."

-Mr. Rogers

So, on this Human Rights Day, I just want to affirm your life, your fight, your will, your purposes, your goals. We need the activists and the artists and the listeners and the nurturers and the teachers and the healers and the leaders and followers and the thinkers and the scientists and the workers and the friends. 

But, remember, we can exude all our energy and our brilliant thoughts and our righteous pursuit of justice, but if we don't have love--we accomplish nothing. 

Remember that the point of humanity is love. That doesn't strip the consequences, and there are real consequences, for dismantling and trampling another's inherent dignity. 

But, still, there can be love. 

So, today:

  • Know your song
  • Make a plan of action
  • Do the next good and right thing in front of you
  • Remember empathy, remember justice, remember love

Or just ignore my inadequate words and listen to Dr. Maya Angelou instead: