In October 2011 I was invited to speak at “Let’s Get Loud,” an anti-bullying rally for several hundred middle and high school students ad their parents, held at HemisFair Park.
How many of you are human? Raise your hands!
Because we are human, we have rights. Every one of us. These rights have existed since the beginning of time, even when people didn’t know they had them. Cave men and women had human rights – Fred and Wilma Flintstone had rights.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are. Tall people have rights and so do short people. Rich and poor. Black and white and brown. Smart people and not so smart people. People who can dribble a basketball and people who have two left feet. It doesn’t make any difference what language you speak, or what country you were born in. It doesn’t make any difference what your religion is or whether you have no religion at all: you have rights. All men have rights. All women have exactly the same rights. Girls and boys have rights. Who has right? EVERYBODY
Over the years people have struggled to define these rights –- to come up with a list. One example you might be familiar with is in our Declaration of Independence. It says in the preamble “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Inalienable is a word we don’t hear much today, but all it means is that these rights cannot be taken away from you. Not ever, by nobody. The pursuit of happiness just means that we have the right to be ourselves, whatever that might be, and no one -– especially a government -– should interfere with that. I have the right to be Susan and do Susan things.
In the 1940s –- more than 60 years ago, before I was born — terrible things happened during World War II. First, in Germany and other nearby countries people were told that they couldn’t go to school, hold a job or own property because they were Jewish, or Jehovah Witnesses, or Gypsies, or gay or had a disability, or belonged to a political party the Nazi government didn’t like. Soon, many of these people were shipped off to what were called concentration camps. More than six million of them were killed.
Everyone in the world was outraged. Such a thing could never, never, never be permitted to happen again. One of the responses was to form the United Nations so that all the people of the world would have a place to get together and resolve their problems before it got this bad. The nations of the world also wrote and agreed to a remarkable document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For the first time in history, the people of the world had a list of their rights –- their inalienable rights that cannot ever be taken away.
There are thirty rights listed: all humans have a right to free speech, the right not to be tortured or to be thrown into prison unless they are charged with a crime and given a fair trial. All humans have a right to practice their religion, form a family, go to school, earn a living, speak their own language and express their culture. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that people should be free, and that included being allowed to live their lives free from fear.
That’s why I’m talking to you about human rights today. There is a lot in common between abuse of human rights and bullying. Both say – it’s not OK to be you. Both make you afraid. Both are examples of the powerful preying on people with less power and making them afraid to be who they are. Both are wrong.
We have the ability to create an environment where human rights are respected. Volunteers are handing out cards that contain a quiz that will allow you to take the human rights temperature of your school. If you use your imagination, you can use these questions for your family, your neighborhood, your workplace, for all of San Antonio, for Texas and for the whole United States. And if we live, work and go to school in a place where human rights are respected, it is really, really hard to be a bully.
There is no right to be a bully. The late Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Your right to use your fists stops where another man’s nose starts.” He could have said, too, that the right to use cruel words stops where the other person’s feelings begin hurting. Along with rights come responsibilities.
It’s hard to remember all 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you asked me to recite them I’m sure I’d forget a few. So I’m going to teach you a shortcut. There’s one rule for living that sums up all 30 of these right. We call it the Golden Rule. In the Christian tradition it say, “Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.” But ALL the people of the world have a version of the Golden Rule. In Islam they say “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them.” A Buddhist would say “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” It’s all the same, for all the people of the world. If every one of try to live our lives by the golden rule bullying will stop.
So, if your human, raise your hand again – I want to see you! If you have human rights, keep your hand up! Just look at all these people who have rights! Just look at all these humans who respect the rights of others! Can we stop bullying? Yes we can. Can we stop bullying? Yes we can!
The “Human Right Temperature” cards are available to download from the peaceCENTER’s web site.