December 10 is Human Rights Day.
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
~ Article 25, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Who are we, America? I mean, really. Who are we and what do we value?
Talk is cheap. We say ours is such a wonderful, exceptional and caring country, but our actions speak louder than words.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was one of those who worked tirelessly to get it passed. She regarded the work as her greatest achievement and indeed it was.
The Declaration was a bold statement and it marked a monumental turning point in how governments and peoples were supposed to relate to one another.
Article 1 trumpeted the great fundamental truth that the entire world is called upon to recognize and uphold:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Sounds reminiscent of our own Declaration of Independence, doesn’t it?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
That was back in 1776. Our Founding Fathers got it. They understood the truth, even if at the time many of the freedoms they espoused were reserved for landowning males. Still, they gave us, the succeeding generations, the opportunity to create a healthy nation that was responsive to its people.
In many ways we have succeeded, after long and difficult struggles, in extending the promises of freedom and opportunity by recognizing that women and people of color have the right to vote, by eliminating Jim Crow laws, by asserting the right of workers to organize, etc.
Ironically, all of these rights have been under renewed assault in recent years.
The question for us today is, where are we now? Are we regressing or progressing? Why do we still treat one another so disrespectfully? Why are so many still denied the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Who am I talking about? Just about everyone it seems. Have you been paying attention to all the groups whose rights, abilities and opportunities to prosper are under political attack? Gays and lesbians, people of color, women, workers from every sector, veterans, the disabled, seniors, immigrants, the middle class and the poor, religious believers, atheists and on and on and on.
Why have we as a society become so blatantly mean-spirited and cruel?
I’m going to suggest that there is a fundamental flaw in our value system that is causing many of our problems. It is not the only reason, of course, but it is a significant one. And we need to be honest about this.
Over time we Americans have come to place more and more value on making money and getting rich than we have on appreciating and taking care of one another. As a result, we have become so divided that we have lost sight of the fact that we need each other in order to thrive.
I’ve been on the planet more than 50 years now and, believe me, I’ve seen a major change in this regard. My parents’ generation, the World War II generation, often now called The Greatest Generation, rose to confront the most serious challenge of their day—the ascent of Nazi Germany and the Axis powers.
It took a long, hard and bloody war, but they defeated fascism and the barbaric cruelty that it unleashed upon the world. And they did it by coming together. Everyone contributed. It was an all out effort.
Yet today, when confronted by even greater challenges to the entire planet and the future of human civilization itself—economically, politically, spiritually and environmentally—we see no such unified response by the American people.
Instead, we find our fellow Americans lulled into complacency by mainstream media, which is more interested in making money than informing the public of difficult truths, and labeling one another as something “other.” Something not even human. Something not to be trusted, but feared.
Selfishness and greed, once considered vices of the human spirit have become acceptable and even fashionable in today’s America.
It’s not surprising really. Commercial messages are drummed into our heads and our children’s heads daily by the incessant propaganda machine we affectionately call TV.
In fact, everywhere we go today, including online, we are bombarded with commercial messages. Buy this. Buy that. You need this “such and so” to be cool, to be sexy, to be fulfilled. And if you don’t have all the latest nifty stuff, guess what? You’re a loser!
That’s what all our gorgeous, happy, smiling friends in the ads tell us every single day.
But all that “stuff” takes money. Lots of it. And if you can’t afford it, well, you’re just un-American, aren’t you? A lazy, no-good moocher, or even worse. You get what you deserve! Nothing.
Sometimes I don’t even recognize this country as being America. It’s not the country I grew up in. How low will we go before we come to our senses?
Moreover, our institutions, which are reflections of ourselves, have become equally selfish and greedy, obsessed with their Bottom Lines. They make their decisions primarily based on money, not on the needs of the people they are supposed to be serving.
Take health care, for example. Health care is a basic human right. If you aren’t in good health, your life, liberty and happiness are all in serious jeopardy.
Every human being has the right to adequate, affordable and compassionate care. Nearly every industrialized country in the world, except the U.S., recognizes this moral imperative and provides a system of universal health care for its citizens.
Yet, in America we have a system that puts profits over people. Its primary function is to make money, not to heal the sick. In fact, the health insurance industry has a financial incentive to deny care. The more care they deny, the more money they make.
As such, our American health care system is spiritually and morally bankrupt and is causing the unnecessary suffering and deaths of untold millions.
Think about it. How many millions of Americans don’t seek care because they can’t afford it? How many millions of Americans are uninsured? How many millions have inadequate insurance that won’t cover their medical needs when they desperately need it?
Who is profiting from this system, anyway? The insurance companies, the health care providers, Big Business, Big Pharma, Wall Street, etc.
And who is paying for it? You and me!
Health care costs are a huge drain on the economy. Far too many Americans are going bankrupt due to medical expenses. Just think of all the mental and physical agony millions and millions of patients have had to endure thanks to the unethical, profit-mad practices of the health care industry.
If you’ve ever had serious health issues or know someone who has, you know what I’m talking about.
Instead of making people well, in many ways our system is making them sicker.
Why is this acceptable, America?
And don’t tell me it’s impossible to fix. We have some of the most brilliant minds in the world at our disposal, including many dedicated doctors and nurses who can provide the leadership and the guidance to show us the way to a system that is both humane and economically feasible.
If we want to truly become an exceptional nation, we need to do something about the human rights abuses in this country. The health care system is just one example. There are many, many areas that call for our attention—the rights of women, children, minorities, workers, gays and lesbians, etc.
The unconscionable forces that oppose basic human decency, often driven by selfishness and greed, are wealthy, powerful and entrenched. They have been calling the shots for an awfully long time. We the People need to fight back. All of us need to get involved. Not only for our own sakes, but for the sakes of our children and the generations to follow.
The question is not what can we do, but what will we do. Do we have the will to do what is necessary to turn this around on all fronts so that the rights of human beings everywhere are respected?
It all starts by changing the way we think. We as a society must value one another (and the planet itself) over the accumulation of money, material goods and power. We must make decisions based on the wisdom of long-term considerations for the greater good, rather than short-term financial gain for the few.
This will require a fundamental shift in our consciousness. We must recognize that we are all interconnected and dependent on one another for our well-being. We are all one family. What is good for my neighbor is good for me as well.
Once we have taken this simple truth to heart, we must live it. We must take action. We must demand change. We must speak out, join and support organizations that are working to make a difference, and even march in the streets if necessary.
Remember, human rights are your rights. They define who we are. They represent the best in ourselves. Yet, they have been trampled on for far too long. And they will continue to be callously disregarded until a great many of us stand up and say, “Enough is enough!”
Every year on December 10, Human Rights Day, we are reminded once again of how far we have yet to go. Let’s hope by this time next year, we will have made some real progress.
1) About Human Rights Day, UN.org http://www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/
2) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN.org http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml
3) Carter, Jimmy, “U.S. Finally Ratifies Human Rights Covenant,” The Carter Center, 29 Jun 1992 http://www.cartercenter.org/news/documents/doc1369.html
4) Program: Human Rights, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty http://www.nlchp.org/program.cfm?prog=1
5) Sears, John, “Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/library/er_humanrights.html
6) Universal Health Care, Wikipedia, 2012 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_health_care
7) “Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Questions and Answers” (PDF). Amnesty International. p. 6. Retrieved Dec 2012.
8) 60 Minutes report, “Hospitals: The Cost of Admission,” CBS News.com, Dec. 2, 2012 http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50136261n
Laurence Overmire is the author of the recently released The One Idea That Saves The World: A Call to Conscience and A Call to Action. He has had a multi-faceted career as poet, author, actor, director, educator, and genealogist. His award-winning poetry has been widely published in hundreds of journals, magazines and anthologies worldwide. Overmire is an advocate for peace, justice, human and animal rights, and the environment.
Ed: Stephanie Vessely
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