International Human Rights Day is a time to honor and celebrate both our humanity and the inherent rights entitled to each of us. Today is also a great day to take inventory of our own behavior to ensure we are exercising our own rights in a way that does not violate the rights of another human being.
Some time after I escaped the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ for Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), I discovered an important document called The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which the United Nations defines the inherent rights of every human being. An even more profound experience, however, was when I discovered a document that outlined what the actual behavior of exercising our rights looks like.
Read over the Personal Bill of Rights below and see how each right resonates with you. Growing up in the FLDS, I was never aware that I had any rights at all (we were taught our only right was to be “perfectly obedient” to the demands of those in power). This list really empowered me to claim my own power, while providing a great outline for respecting the rights of others. It can be easy to rationalize behavior when we believe we are crossing someone’s boundaries in the name of a “greater good”, but that’s exactly the type of behavior that begins to erode boundaries altogether. We must be sure our rights and the rights of others are based in equality.
I have numerous choices in my life beyond my survival.
I have a right to discover and know my child within.
I have a right to grieve over what I didn’t get that I need or what I got that I didn’t need or want.
I have the right to follow my own values and standards.
I have the right to recognize and accept my own value system as appropriate.
I have a right to say NO to anything when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe, or violates my values.
I have a right to dignity and respect.
I have a right to make decisions.
I have a right to determine and honor my own priorities.
I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others.
I have the right to terminate conversations with people who make me feel put down and humiliated.
I have the right NOT to be responsible for others behavior, actions, feelings or problems.
I have a right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.
I have a right to expect honesty from others.
I have a right to all of my feelings.
I have a right to be angry at someone I love.
I have a right to be uniquely me, without feeling I’m not good enough.
I have a right to feel scared and to say, “I’m afraid.”
I have the right to experience and then let go of fear, guilt and shame.
I have a right to make decisions based on my feelings. My judgment or any reason that I choose.
I have a right to change my mind at any time.
I have a right to be happy.
I have a right to stability –ie. “roots” and stable healthy relationships of my choice.
I have the right to my own personal space and time needs. There is no need to smile when I cry.
It is OK to be relaxed, playful and frivolous.
I have the right to be flexible and be comfortable with doing so.
I have the right to change and grow.
I have the right to be open to improve communication skills so that I may be understood.
I have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people.
I have a right to be in a non-abusive environment.
I can be healthier than those around me.
I can take care of myself, no matter what.
I have the right to grieve over actual or threatened loss.
I have the right to trust others who earn my trust.
I have the right to forgive others and to forgive myself.
I have the right to give and to receive unconditional love.
Source: Charles L. Whitefield, M. D. Healing the Child Within Health Communications, Inc. 1967
In my personal journey of understanding human rights, there was a third and crucial piece of the puzzle that helped give me a more complete understanding of fairness and equality. After knowing I had rights as a human being, and what that behavior looked like, I needed to know how to pursue those rights in a healthy manner. The society in which I grew up provided me with two different examples of behavior, and to be perfectly honest, neither one seemed healthy. The women in the FLDS were too passive and could not bring themselves to voice their personal rights, but the behavior I saw in the FLDS men also seemed wrong. They aggressively pursued their perceived rights, and in doing so, they felt it was their God-given right to violate any boundary of the people who could not stand up for themselves. I knew I didn’t want to be remain a passive woman, but I didn’t see the opposite behavior as being much better. The answer came to me years later when I learned the concept of Assertiveness.
Excerpt from The Witness Wore Red:
Perhaps one of my biggest lessons was learning the healthy difference between passive, aggressive and assertive characteristics of behavior. I think this is one of the great balances necessary for healthy individuals and cultures, and I have considered it carefully. To be passive means you don’t stand up for your own rights. To be aggressive means that you stand up for your rights while not honoring the rights of others. Both of these patterns of unhealthy behavior were dominant in our society, with men and women in substantial measure and in all of their relationships. What was missing was assertiveness, as it was predominantly programmed right out of us. Assertiveness means that you stand up for your rights while honoring the rights of others. It is difficult to be manipulated or to manipulate others when you are genuinely assertive, so that was why it was a danger in a culture built on manipulation.
Today, my hope is that we will all help make people aware of their human rights, bring understanding to the behavior of exercising those rights, and educate people how to properly pursue their rights in a way that promotes peace and equality for all.
Know your rights. Know the behavior. Be assertive.