A wise friend of mine gave a talk about human rights this weekend. Given some of the things going on right now, it seems like an important conversation to have, although I suppose that’s true most days.
My friend rightly pointed out that human rights rest on a decision that we make as a community or as a society. We agree that there are certain things that should be true for everyone. My friend, and minister, explained: “You can’t do anything to be more or less worthy of human rights so long we agree that they exist.” They apply to everyone.
For those of us raised in countries or cultures where at least lip service is given to human rights we agree, that at least on some level, everyone has rights that cannot be taken away. Of course the argument rarely stops there and becomes more detailed and heated shortly after. Despite our disagreements about what our specific human rights are, we do seem to agree that they exist.
We agree that other people have rights that cannot be taken away, truths that are self-evident. We don’t however, on a more personal level, seem to be very good at extending the same baseline to ourselves. If we can agree that everyone has inalienable human rights, can we agree that just being able to be alive is a pretty low bar and that we ought to consider both raising the bar and being sure we are applying it to ourselves? What would it look like to grant ourselves rights on the individual personal level?
What can you say you always DESERVE no matter what? There’s the rub, isn’t it? That DESERVE. Yep, I capitalized it because it’s a hangup for me. When I think about what I DESERVE there is always a conversation about effort – effort that I must expend to be deserving, action I must take to be good enough, goodness offered to be worthy of whatever. It’s an old hangup and one I’m working on, but it’s deep and sometimes it takes time.
I have a hunch that many of us have never considered what we deserve no matter what – even on days when you’re not nice to others, on days when you don’t do your best, on the days when that one Girl Scout cookie becomes a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies.
What do you deserve no matter what?
I gave this some thought and the exercise was both revelatory as to what I am willing to believe I am worthy of and startling in its sometimes stark contrast to my own self-care, even in its much improved state.
What do I think I DESERVE? (I’m still capitalizing because that word is still tough for me.)
- Sleep. This is first because I didn’t get enough last night. I think I deserve sleep even if I haven’t been swell that day.
- The highest quality food I can manage.
- Love. (whoa)
- Acceptance. (double whoa)
- Joy. (are you kidding?!)
- The occasional insight in times of trouble.
- Internal peace.
Yeah. I told you I’ve worked on it. I’m well past believing that I only deserve health care and shelter. Some people might find that spoiled, but understand I have no problem agreeing that everyone else deserves these things as well. I’ve only thought about it from my perspective. I am happy to imagine that your list might look different, and that you deserve all of it. The question is how do we get there? How do you, if you wish, get to having the audacity to want such a list, imagining that you could claim it.
The first step is the same as the reasonable first step in addressing problems on a larger scale, from Reverend Carl: “We need to be honest about the situation at hand.”
For those of you (formerly us) who have no sense of that which is inalienable in your personal realm, you have to determine whether or not that’s working for you. Do you (formerly we) feel neutral or badly more often than seems reasonable given the circumstances fo your life? Do you frequently find yourself overwhelmed, over-scheduled or overtired and then face the task of bettering your moments by consciously choosing behaviors that buffer you from the way you feel or simply cheer you up for a short time? Do your days feel more draining than fulfilling? Are you in some version of survival mode?
The situation at hand, if you answered yes to those, is that your current approach isn’t working.
OK Julia, Great, so I admit it’s not working, then what?
You figure out what your inalienable rights are. What must be true for you to live, to thrive, not just survive? If that seems too big a question, let me give you a boost. Let me start your list for you:
- I am allowed to think my thoughts and feel my feelings no matter how I or other people might judge those thoughts and feelings (and by the way, this is a longer version of the acceptance mentioned earlier).
- Now you go…
And when you finish that list, try on the idea that you actually DESERVE that. If that’s too big a leap, try on the idea that you should be able to have that list whether you deserve it or not because you are human, because you are the result of a moment in time and a biological improbability that will never happen again, ever. You really are special, just by being here. What would happen if you decided to treat yourself that way?