Human rights are not like the laws of gravity or relativity. They can be violated without bodies launching into the cosmos even though it seems possible that souls may ascend as the bodies that held them fall.
Human rights can be denied without affecting the passage of time. Time will continue on its neutral way even though one moment of savagery can change everything in a person’s life and then freeze into a painful continuous “now.”
Nor did human rights arrive on a tablet of commandments or in a holy book or as words written on a wall or across the sky. If human rights had divine origins, the god that initiated them was late by millennia and still doesn’t have an enforcement plan. Where you go after you die is not adequate for the here and now.
Instead, human rights were created by humans through conscious evolution. They are concoctions of our better natures, the codification of empathy. Most people feel suffering inside when others suffer. We want suffering to stop.
We also recognize the pragmatic value of protecting others from harm and supporting each other for good. Human rights embody the living conditions we wish for everyone, especially the weak and vulnerable. To engrain the concept of human rights in the consciousness of the majority of people helps us unite against those among us who are short on empathy and long on greed and cruelty.
The movement for universal rights of equality, justice, education, health, and safety may seem to be evolving at the same speed that fish found their way to land and dinosaurs to feathers, but it is real, alive and unstoppable no matter how terrible its prospects look at the moment. It is, in fact, gaining speed.
Just to be sure on one thing: Human rights are larger in scope than the rule of legislated law. Such laws are needed, even as tools to enforce human rights, but they focus on punishment more than opportunity, are often poorly thought out, and are invariably tilted in favor of people with the money and willingness to hire morally dubious lawyers. Specifically, human rights are about not being feral. The mapping and near-universal acceptance of human rights is a triumph over the impulses of humans who want what they want when they want it and to hell with anyone else.
Yet, because human rights are not physical laws but rely on the better impulses of humans to make them real, they are constantly assaulted by the lesser impulses of humans – greed, lust, control, violence, self-righteousness, prejudice, and hate. The two sides can seem pretty evenly matched.
But the belief in, and the struggle for, universal human rights will win because most of us want to love each other. We want to share our lives, thoughts, arts, visions, music, dance, food, stories with each other – and that is what love is.
We will unite in kindness and protection and opportunity because we want to be family and we will not allow our family members to be starved, sold, voiceless, homeless, violated, or bombed. We will demand that all members of our family be respected and that all have protection, education, housing, health care, and justice.
Love is the ultimate right that encompasses all other rights. No religion, no belief, no cultural heritage is more important than honoring the human right to love and to be loved. Love is the law above all others. To disobey it is to fail at your turn in life.
It is time to bring love into the conversation about human rights. It is time to recognize why we care for each other to begin with.