Why You Should Care About Human Rights

The other day, I was browsing around one of my favorite used book stores. It had been far too long since I had been there and I spent a good hour or so weaving my way through the shelves, breathing in the smell of printed paper. As I was purchasing my books, I became engaged in a lively conversation with one of the workers. We chatted on about politics, equality, authors and, eventually, he asked a question I hear often. “How did you become interested in human rights?” While I’m used to the question being asked of me, I’m always a little surprised people consider it a unique interest. Are we not all human? Do we not all deserve our human rights?

Why You Should Care About Human Rights

My answer is simple; I was greatly interested in human rights before I ever knew the term or attempted to memorize The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (there was a time where I could list them all). My interest started when I was a young child, suffering the wrath of bullies and falling asleep each night in tears.

Before I developed hate as a defense mechanism against the ever-increasing assaults of humiliation, I felt a sort of desperate compassion. I had this childhood dream that I could somehow absorb all the sadness of the world. Through my tears, I would tell myself that no one deserved to feel as devastated as I did. I was prepared to absorb all the sadness so the world could be happy.

I soon discovered the two realities that made that wish impossible. Firstly, no person, no matter how emotionally stable (not that I was), could carry the weight of all the sadness in the world. Second, the older I got the more I saw people being treated far worse than I ever had. Children kicked out of their homes, simply for identifying as a different gender, being a different sexuality or believing in a different religion. There was a girl in my high school whose parents had basically disowned her. While I believe she still lived in their home, they ignored her. There were a few other things going wrong in her life and she eventually killed herself. Why should that ever happen to someone? How can a parent so completely abandon their own child for being different?

And so I became interested in human rights, not because I knew anything about Gandhi, Martian Luther King, Jr. or the United Nations, but because I knew people deserved love and dignity no matter who they were. They deserved it just for being human.

You might say that some deserve less than their human rights, but I would disagree. Our rights are only as good as the rights of the least of us. Why should a child molester in jail for life have any rights? Well, truth be told, human are fallible. What if they are actually innocent? What if they are mentally deranged and would receive more benefit from a mental institution?

People don’t realize how the removal of rights from a certain group can affect them. People are trying to make laws regarding the consenting adults a person can sleep with and which religion they may practice. I’m always amazed because their logic can so easily turn on them, and yet they seem blind. If we make a law that says a business can deny service to a homosexual couple just because of their sexuality, then certainly we can also ban heterosexuals for the same reason. If we ban a certain religion because we don’t like it, we open the floodgates to allow other to ban our religion for the same reason.

Our rights are only as good as those of the least of us.

I take that to heart, making human rights of great important to my life. I see myself in every person who has their rights violated. People are really quick to claim they don’t care about the well-being of criminals in our prisons or POWs held by our military. The truth is, any of us can find ourselves in a jail at some point. All it takes is one stupid night or one false accusation.

What do I know? Maybe I’m just a radical idealist who thinks every human being, regardless of what they have done, deserves their human dignity. They may not always deserve to exist outside the bars of a jail, but I don’t think there is a level a person can sink to where it’s right to strip them of their human dignity.

Before you start asking “what about Hitler,” let me tell you the real reason behind the importance of human dignity. Through the years, humankind has done horrible things. Too often, we’ve done these horrible things thinking they are justified retaliation against some offense. Preserving the human dignity of the worst among us is not just about their rights, it’s about our own humanity. Committing horrible, inhuman offenses against another human being, no matter how terrible that person, inevitable hurts us as well. It turns us into something grotesquely similar. If we ever hope to rise above the human rights abuses of our past and present, we must strive to fix those problems without committing human rights abuses ourselves.

Do you believe in human rights? Why or why not? How can we move beyond the human rights abuses of our past and present to achieve a better future for humanity? Do you think such a dream is even possible?


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18 thoughts on “Why You Should Care About Human Rights”

  1. Sometime reading your posts is like reading my own thoughts and I love that! I too wanted to absorb the pain and suffering of the world so no one else would hurt. What a strange thought to have as a child. But I think it has made me able to connect with the struggles of others who are so unlike my own daily life. That question, “How did you get so interested in human rights?” is so odd to me, though I know many people would ask it. We are all human and preserving the rights of all people is as important as mine.

  2. I believe that we are culpable for how we treat others as individuals, and also my understanding and study of philosophy has informed that. When we impose limits, we do so based on our own subjective experiences.
    I practice being compassionate to everyone I meet. It has made me happier in a way, less angry and more capable of seeing things in terms of equanimity. It is not always easy or convenient to do so, but it’s necessary.

  3. “People don’t realize how the removal of rights from a certain group can affect them. People are trying to make laws regarding the consenting adults a person can sleep with and which religion they may practice. I’m always amazed because their logic can so easily turn on them, and yet they seem blind. If we make a law that says a business can deny service to a homosexual couple just because of their sexuality, then certainly we can also ban heterosexuals for the same reason. If we ban a certain religion because we don’t like it, we open the floodgates to allow other to ban our religion for the same reason.”

    Very true. What we do to others tends to backfire on us as well. This is one more reason why we very much should treat others as we want to be treated.

  4. This is such an important and fascinating topic. I love your thoughts on the issue. I think that as humans, we sometimes forget that every human, even a criminal, is human, too. When someone commits heinous crimes, we reduce that person down to an “evil person,” and we hope he or she is miserable. Some of us only approve of human rights for select groups, like you touched on in your post. It can be hard for some people to accept that everyone deserves human rights, even if they are criminals or have different beliefs.

    Thank for a great post! Definitely something interesting to think about.

    1. On some level, I think human rights are important, not for the criminal, but for the people punishing them. I think committing horrible things against a person, even an evil person, effects the minds of good people. Constantly killing, even if you are killing evil people, damages a person on some level. We have to make sure we don’t reduce ourselves to criminal acts in order to punish criminals for our own well-being, (which is not to say they should not be severely punished, but there is a limit)

      1. I totally agree. I’m sure it would be horribly traumatic to witness executions of criminals on death row. I personally don’t believe in the death penalty, actually, and that is one of the reasons why I don’t.

  5. Yep, I believe in human rights and I think we need to change our mindset to love and accept all differences in people. I have always believed that hate is taught, but what a wonderful world we would live in if we just taught each other how to love and treat people with respect and kindness. Yes, I know it may seem idealistic, but a girl can hope right?

    1. We all have to do our part to progress society forward. Where would women be without Susan B. Anthony, even though she didn’t get to enjoy many of the rights women enjoy today? We teach who we can to love and hope that message spreads.

  6. I totally agree with you, or rather, you totally agree with me.

    The word “human rights” as such technically means rights that are owned by birth by every human, regardless of anything else. Because he is a human, and not anything else.

    Notwithstanding however bad or good that person is.

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