Writing for rights

Human rights, as they are commonly termed, are not really ‘rights’ at all in the true sense of the word. No-one actually is born with a right to clean water, freedom of speech or the right to practice one’s own religion without hindrance. We grant people rights because we know that it is the correct and moral thing to do. These are all things which society has constructed, based on that society’s moral code.

In the same way, laws are only constructs, and of course they differ greatly from country to country, and between different periods of history.  It is interesting to ponder, however, on how closely many of the rights and laws correlate throughout world history, which is I suspect born of some sort of inherent moral code. Where that might come from, I have no idea, but it may perhaps be an unconscious recognition of what is required to maintain a working society. Without the company of others, arguably we are not really human at all.

For example, the Vikings kept slaves, as of course did the Romans, and the colonial British in America. At the time, it was quite an acceptable practice, and although it must have violated almost every human right, one which brought no shame in polite society at the time. Slaves, aboriginal people, enemies of the state: whatever way you spin it, we have at times found it convenient to ignore that certain individuals are just as valuable as we are.

Now, however, things are quite different, and a whole host of rights are internationally (although not universally) recognized. I think that process of recognition has been driven by a different moral code, related to a greater emphasis on personal empathy.

We are all now encouraged to think about particular starving children on the other side of the globe, as individuals, for example. To consider the plight of Afghani women, uneducated and kept under lock and key by their male relatives. To be repulsed by the concept of political prisoners being tortured. In some place, empathy is being taught in schools as a life skill.

We have the power to speak up about our feelings, and the power to lobby our politicians. Organizations such as Amnesty have serious clout, and a serious number of backers. Now that most of the western world has the time and resources, free of a tyrannical class system and an urgent hand-to-mouth existence, we are turning our attention to the world outside, and it makes our hearts bleed.

Compassion for others’ suffering is only possible if you understand their lives and situation. Stories, therefore, become incredibly important. Here in Australia, our multicultural TV channel, SBS, has a theme which has the tag “Six Billion stories and counting…”  Everyone has their own battles, their own loves, their own families. Every one of those people has a life too complex to convey in a sound bite.

Historically, of course, women have had even less rights, and less voice than the rest of the population. Often unable to own any property, uneducated, and weighed down with the constant demands of pregnancy and child rearing, women have not had the freedom to speak up. In many countries, this is still the case, of course. In our super-connected world, if we can allow them to speak, we give oppressed and powerless women the chance to tell their own stories, then perhaps or compassion will extend to thinking about and fighting for their rights.

It is only by listening and understanding each others stories that we can develop true compassion, and so grant people the human rights that they deserve.

Many other writers are taking part in Blog Action Day.  A couple of great ones to check out:


3 thoughts on “Writing for rights

  1. I love it. The power of stories is so important. Thanks for joining me for this and help make it special day. On a random note, I find it so amazing that your post has been up on the 16th for awhile now and mine, which is scheduled for midnight on the 16th, is not up yet. Time zones. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Blog Action Day 2013: Wielding a Pen | Sabrina Garie

  3. Pingback: Human Rights and the Writer | A Book A Day

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