Putting human rights into effect is the responsibility of each individual. All of the human rights laws have already been documented; now each of us needs to abide by them.

As far as I understand, on July 4, 1776, very basically, we spelled out how the king of Great Britain restrained our choices, which hindered our freedom. We actually warned the king and, as a last resort, drew up the Declaration of Independence. Then, in 1787, the Constitution for the United States of America was signed in Philadelphia, followed by the ratification of 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, in 1791.


After World War II ended, the newly formed United Nations General Assembly created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so the international community would never again allow atrocities like those of the WWII conflict. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, helped write this declaration, which she considered to be her greatest accomplishment.

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights preamble we read, in part: "disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want."

Laboriously written human rights documents have been introduced, so why don't we enact them? Yes, we enforce some of them via the military but I'm speaking of everyday human rights. I believe our attitude is the problem. Human compassion is not our everyday goal. We learn "God is love" in religions, but are not taught how to put that love into action with strangers.

Beginning with bullies in elementary schools to one-upmanships later in the human journey, we lack compassion for others. Mostly, we don't even acknowledge one another. A friend recently told me, "I'm out among people all day and no one even speaks to me." Another said, "Every day there is silence in my office elevator as people ignore one another." Ahem, we have a right to recognition: We truly are interdependent!

Each of us must accept our responsibility; for if we are happy, we will make others happy and everyone benefits.

Giving another a smile is positive silent communication. When we do not recognize another human being, we are giving another kind of message: "You don't matter. You are unimportant to me." When you do not recognize someone, you are disregarding their God-given human rights. You are hurting the stranger as much as if you had voiced the message: "I don't care about you."

There's a story about a man who knelt down when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's coffin passed. The man next to him said, "Did you know the president?" The kneeler replied, "No, but he knew me." That's recognition. The kneeler knew Roosevelt cared about him as he initiated plans to help American families during the Depression.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk and best-selling author, described his path through mastering life's most important skills: He recognizes people by looking into their eyes. I believe Jesus looked into people's eyes also, silently saying with compassion, "You are precious; with you, I am well pleased!"

The Rev. Ellin M. Dize is executive director of nonprofit NRS Inc. and facilitates A Course in Miracles spiritual discussion group at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Westminster. She can be contacted at NRSsolutions@yahoo.com.