Respect for Life, Human Rights and Different Cultures

Carlos & Marlene Cohen, Educator/Bilingual Specialist, Ventura School District in California/ University of California Santa Barbara, USA

In a world that is quickly becoming more interconnected socially, politically, and economically never has respect been more important than know. But what is respect? And what should that look like on the global stage. Generally speaking, respect is the positive feelings and actions that one exhibits towards another person. In most parts of the world respect can be seen in the way that elders, superiors, religious leaders, parents, or even symbols of particular nations are held in high esteem. Respect is also demonstrated in the actions of people toward certain beliefs such as the respect for life, human rights, and difference in cultures. It is within those three last areas that we must begin to expand our definition of respect if we are to all realize our human potential.

In regards to respecting life we must, on both a local and global level, make decisions and policies that safeguard the sanctity and quality of life. From the unborn baby in the womb to the elderly, it is important that we realize that every life is precious and the life of every person is sacred. No one has the right anywhere in the world, at anytime, to deprive a person of this fundamental human right. If we were to take just this one particular aspect of respect we would be able to curb the many actions that result in the ending of so many lives, whether that be directly through violent action such as war or police actions, or indirectly through the destruction of families ways of life through poor economic and health policies.

Considering this is the 21 st century we would think that the respect for human rights would be universal. However, it seems that in the race for more countries to be materially wealthy and militarily secure, human rights are being violated more than ever. Pick up the newspaper on any given day and we can see human rights violations. For example, in China we continue to see Tibetans being systematically reduced to nothing religiously, politically, and socially as well as Chinese Nationals that are unable to express themselves in a democratic fashion without being censored, or violently suppressed for expressing their desire for change. In Afghanistan we see the rights of women being trampled on by extremists. In Iran we see reformers vote for a change of leaders but prior, during, and after the election we hear of stories of political intimidation and the suppression of the press. These are just a few of the headlines that we can read in our papers today. If the leaders of the aforementioned countries wish to be respected then they must remember the unspoken maxim for respect; “respect must be earned and not given”. Unfortunately many leaders are coercing their own countrymen to “respect them”. Paraphrasing Rousseau in his Social Contract, people however will only obey a forceful leader when force is present, but they will quickly remove the yoke of oppression when it is possible. It seems that some countries are still living in the age of absolute monarchs and totalitarian regimes. A new era of human rights is upon us, but respect for the individual is the necessary and critical ingredient necessary for that to be realized.

In the United States , the country I live in and even enlisted to defend, we have a tale of two cities. On the one hand we have the ideal of respect for life, human rights, and difference in culture, that is idealized in everything to political speeches to movies… and then we have the reality. Though are country has made great strides in the past four hundred years since the first settlement in Virginia, our country still has a considerable amount of work to accomplish to insure that all of its citizens have an opportunity to pursue the ideals of “Life, Liberty, and Happiness.” Proof of this deficiency can be seen in the beginning of this century with the attack on its citizen's civil liberties in the name of “security.” This can also be seen with the attack on freedom of speech and the censoring and harassing of those who speak counter to the opinion of the government. Our country, though not perfect, has always promoted itself to others and “prided” itself on the ideal that we value everyone's political opinion but we are beginning to lose our way at home. Why? Because we are losing respect, and faith, in the ideals we have strived to achieve for centuries. We could point the finger at the government but in reality, we the people of the United States , in pursuit of more material things have gotten our priorities all mixed up. As a result we have lost our ability to serve as a light to each other and to other countries, in effect, we have begun to lose our global respect. But it is not too late.

The United States , other countries and all of our collective global citizenry can realize the goals of respect for life, human rights, and respecting our differences. If every citizen were to make a stand for everyone else's right to be fully actualized the issues that we have in the world would begin to fade away. We the people of world need to pursue global objectives that we can pursue locally, as opposed to local objectives that we are trying to pursue globally with the intent of respecting the human rights of every individual. It is an issue of respect. The question then is “how are we going to choose to respect and serve one another?”