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December 10, 2017

Human Rights in Today’s World

This blog first appeared on Article 3 Advisors’ Human Right’s Day special blog series on Democracy & Civil Society.

For the last 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of leading Humanity United (HU), an organization dedicated to bringing people together to address some of humankind’s toughest problems. Over this period, we’ve seen the ways that division and dehumanization contribute to problems like violent conflict and human exploitation around the world. We’ve also witnessed the better nature of humanity when people join together to advance the ideals of dignity and mutual respect.

These ideals were codified by the United Nations on December 10, 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a cornerstone of the modern human rights movement that proclaimed the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of every human being — regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Although our focus at HU has traditionally been global, as a U.S.-based organization with offices in San Francisco and Washington, DC, it is impossible to ignore the challenges to these ideals that have emerged here at home.

The diversity of backgrounds, beliefs, and perspectives in our country – which have for so long been recognized and celebrated as our strength – are now being used to polarize and divide people along political, socioeconomic, religious and racial lines. These divisions have been enabled by a number of factors – a failure to listen, to connect, to tap into basic empathy for our fellow human beings, and yes, a failure of leadership.

And in this place, I’m faced with one thought and one question: First, Humanity United’s mission has never been more relevant. And, second, how I can lead an organization named “Humanity United” to advance human dignity around the world when the principles on which we are founded are being challenged right here at home?

To be sure, political perspectives and ideals are important, and differences can actually help us examine our beliefs and find new solutions. Religious convictions are core to many of our neighbors and should be respected and celebrated. Whether one believes the U.S. is stronger in a globalized world or with a more introspective national focus is important, but in my mind secondary to the question of why we are allowing these different perspectives to replace the values that make us human. In today’s cultural landscape, too often we have chosen to suspend empathy, compassion, and understanding – some of humanity’s greatest strengths. And when we do this, we are missing out on that which makes us most human, our ability to love and connect.

I believe we are at a critical moment, as a people, where we must decide the kind of country we want to be, what values do we hold most dear, and what kind of world we want to live in. If, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, then I am hopeful that we will emerge from this era of polarization and fear into a new era of optimism.

With renewed purpose, we at Humanity United will continue to support the ability of all of us to be treated justly, both globally and right here at home. We will continue to choose empathy over hate, unity over division, and dignity over disparagement. And as we consider the ideals articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and celebrate its anniversary, I hope others will join us in this stand.

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