Thinking about Human Rights on Ordinary Days in Small Places Close to Home

A couple of weeks ago I got to see Audra McDonald perform in concert. The woman is breath-taking. She has such an amazing talent. She had such an open heart. As I listened to her sing, I found myself thinking about Eleanor Roosevelt – it is pretty odd the pathways that my mind is wont to wander, but for the most part they are happy trails, and so I am content to follow the yellow brick road.

So that night, one of the songs that Audra McDonald sang got me to thinking about Eleanor’s often quoted speech fragment from the tenth anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Now, I suspect you will either have never heard of this, or you will have heard it SO many times that you can halfway recite it in your sleep. Either way, please give it a read, once more with feeling. Think about what her words are really suggesting as she challenges us to think about the roots of human rights:

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

Every time I read that paragraph I remember E. F. Schumacher’s injunction to think globally but act locally.

And all of that reminds me that in many ways it is easy to be a verbal, maybe even a financial, advocate for people on the other side of the planet. Truth be told, I find it much harder to consistently be compassionate and to always respect the human dignity of the people I meet closer to home on ordinary days, those people who can frustrate the crap out of me. But I do believe that Miss Eleanor is saying it is those very people who live in the small places close to our homes where the presence and practice of human rights must take its roots. And then of course we should do all that we can to have it spread like kudzu!

So, what tune was it that Audra McDonald sang that got me thinking about all of this? The song is “I’ll be there” from an off Broadway Play called, “Ordinary Days.”  Have a listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aku-s6yPplc    And have a box of tissues with you. When she sang it, there was not a dry eye in the theater.

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On human interdependence and breathing

Since the failed grand jury decision in Ferguson I have been wanting to write something meaningful here about that. Then the Staten Island grand jury failed to find any cause to indict, and I even more wanted to write something meaningful. But what? what could I say? Eric Garner could not breathe, and I could not find words to write.  Then I cam across this meditation by Jan Willis, and so I share it with you in recognition of our deep interdependence, because breathing is a most basic human right.

Why We Can’t Breathe BY JAN WILLIS 

Lions Roar DECEMBER 7, 2014

http://www.lionsroar.com/cant-breathe/

We can’t breathe!

In Buddhist meditation, our breathing is essential. Anapana, meditation on the breath, was the Buddha’s first meditation instruction and the basis for all further meditative endeavors. Breathing is not only life-sustaining and calming; it is a foremost teaching aid. Breathing, we sense immediately our necessary connection to what is other than ourselves. Without the exchange of air —inner and outer–we would die. We are not independent. We are dependent.

We are interdependent. We are connected with one another. We breathe the same air. That air is neither black nor white. We share the life-force of all.

If one of us cannot breathe, none of us can breathe fully and deeply and we no longer experience our connection with one another.

If Eric Garner cannot breathe, then we cannot breathe. If Michael Brown no longer breathes, we cannot breathe. If Tamir Rice does not breathe, we cannot breathe.

Something is mightily broken. A hard rock of sadness and pain rolls itself up in our hearts and we cannot breathe. We must do something—swiftly and non-violently–to right the moral compass. Because, at this moment, none of us can breathe.

 

Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rudyard Kipling

From 1936 until she died in 1962, six days a week, virtually without interruption Eleanor Roosevelt wrote her column, “My Day” which was syndicated in newspapers across the country and in many other countries around the world. In the column Mrs. Roosevelt wrote about social issues that were on her mind, she wrote about her work at the United Nations and for the Commission on Human Rights, she wrote of her travels around the world and her meetings with dignitaries from around the world, and she wrote about her mundane daily activities, she wrote about her day whatever that day might contain.

Here is the text of her column from June 16, 1951. I particularly think it fits here because in the column she highlights the human rights implications of a section from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. Check it out!

ER my day

JUNE 16, 1951

 BOSTON, Friday—Kipling has gone out of fashion more or less, whereas when I was young it would have been almost impossible to find a child who did not know the “Jungle Book.” It is a rare thing nowadays to find a child who does. But on the afternoons when I am home some of my grandchildren gather around at 5 o’clock in the afternoon and I read aloud. The other day we read “How Fear Came” from the “Jungle Book.”

Some of my contemporaries will remember from that story a few of the rules of the jungle, as taught by old Baloo, the brown bear. These particular rules apply to the wolves, but as I read I could not help thinking how well they applied to us all. For instance:

“As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the law runneth forward and back,
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

Isn’t that a pretty good picture of why we should have a United Nations and why each nation in the U.N. should look to its own contribution? The success of the organization depends on what each member is and can contribute.

I could not help looking at my small fry with a smile as I read:

“Wash deeply from nose tip to tail tip; drink deeply, but never too deep.”

And then again:

“When Pack meets Pack in the Jungle, and neither will go from the trail,
Lie down till the leaders have spoken—it may be fair words will prevail.”

So, even in the law of the jungle the value of conversation before action was recognized.

And here again is one of the human rights expressed as the law of the jungle.

“The lair of the Wolf is his refuge, and where he has made his home,
Not even the Head Wolf may enter, not even the Council may come.”

So the right of privacy and the ownership of property was one of the laws of the jungle! Kipling even made it clear that in the jungle you could not be completely selfish. Here it is:

“If Ye plunder his Kill from a weaker, devour not all in thy pride;
Pack-right is the right of the meanest; so leave him the head and the hide.”

In other words, if you can get it, you can take the major part. But don’t take everything or you may regret it later. And now for the last verse:

“Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the bump is—Obey!”

E.R.

 (World copyright, 1951, by United Feature Syndicate, inc. Used with permission of Mrs. Roosevelt’s literary estate.)

 

Malalai: the Joan of Arc of Afghanistan

 

When Malala Yousafzay was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I of course, had to scour the web to find some info on her. And you should check out my post “Malala Yousafzay and Kailash Satyarthi and the Nobel Prize 2014” to read about how and why she earned the prize. As I read about her, I came across a line that mentioned that she was named after Malalai, an Afghan heroine. So, off I went again in search of info on Malalai. I was all set to gather and collate and draft something, when I came across this blog by Garen Ewing, http://www.garenewing.co.uk/angloafghanwar/biography/malalai.php, which I happily share with you here! Indeed, I am happy to celebrate two young women (Malala and Malalai) who dedicated their lives to working for human rights!!

 

Malalai
Afghan heroine of Maiwand

While in Britain, no one has heard of her, in Afghanstan Malalai (or Malala) is a legend. Smaller facts in the story vary slightly, but although it is Ayub Khan who became known as the Victor of Maiwand, it is said that it was Malalai who actually saved the day.

She was a native of Khig, a tiny village on the edge of the Maiwand battlefield, and the daughter of a shepard. Both her father and fiancée joined with Ayub’s army in the attack on the British on July 27th 1880 (which some say was also her wedding day), and like many women, Malalai was there to help tend to the wounded and provide water and spare weapons. Eventually there came a point in the battle where the Afghan army, despite their superior numbers, started to lose morale and the tide seemed to be turning in favour of the British. Seeing this, Malalai took off her veil and shouted out:

“Young love! If you do not fall in the battle of Maiwand,
By God, someone is saving you as a symbol of shame!”

This gave many of the Afghan fighters and ghazis a new resolve and they redoubled their efforts. At that moment one of the leading flag-bearers fell from a British bullet, and Malalai went forward and held up the flag (some versions say she made a flag out of her veil), singing a landai:

“With a drop of my sweetheart’s blood,
Shed in defense of the Motherland,
Will I put a beauty spot on my forehead,
Such as would put to shame the rose in the garden,”

But then Malalai was herself struck down and killed. However, her words had spurred on her countrymen and soon the British lines gave way, broke and turned, leading to a disastrous retreat back to Kandahar and the biggest defeat for the Anglo-Indian army in the Second Afghan War. Ayub Khan afterwards gave a special honour to Malalai and she was buried at her village, where her grave can still be found.

British sources, unsurprisingly, do not mention Malalai. Her actions may not have been noticed by any of the British, or they may not have seemed as consequential as they were to the Afghans. Afghan women are very rarely mentioned at all in the reports and narratives of the war (Hensman mentions that one woman was found among the dead at Ahmed Khel). Interestingly, it is the Afghans who provide some of the evidence for one of the other legends born at the battle of Maiwand, as it is from one of Ayub’s artillery colonels that we learn some of the details of the famous last stand of the 66th, clutching to their company colours, in a Khig garden, where indeed the fallen bodies were later found to be lying.

As well as Malalai, there were many other factors in the Afgan’s favour on that day, including preferential terrain and positioning, superior numbers, skilled use of outnumbering artillery, and perhaps some bad decisions on the British side of things. But certainly her actions were enough to turn her into a national hero where she is still revered today. Schools, hospitals and even a women’s magazine have been named after her. It is also a popular girl’s name, with Malalai Joya a rare female voice in post-Taliban Afghan politics.

Article by Garen Ewing ©2005. Separate from other articles on this website, I grant a creative commons license so this article may be used elsewhere to spread the word about Malalai. Please include this credit line.

 

 

Malalai of Maiwand
Da_Maiwand_MalalaiA drawing of Malalai holding Ayub Khan’s flag at the battlefield of Maiwand in July 1880
Born 1861
Khig, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Died July 1880 (aged 18–19)
Maiwand, Kandahar province, Afghanistan
Nationality Afghan
Other names Malalai Nia, Malala and Malalai of Maiwand
Ethnicity Pashtun
Known for Battle of Maiwand

 

Malala Yousafzay and Kailash Satyarthi and the Nobel Prize 2014

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2014

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 is to be awarded to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.  Children must go to school and not be financially exploited.  In the poor countries of the world, 60% of the present population is under 25 years of age.  It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected.  In conflict-ridden areas in particular, the violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation.

Showing great personal courage, Kailash Satyarthi, maintaining Gandhi’s tradition, has headed various forms of protests and demonstrations, all peaceful, focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain.  He has also contributed to the development of important international conventions on children’s rights.

Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzay has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations.  This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances.  Through her heroic struggle she has become a leading spokesperson for girls’ rights to education.

The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.  Many other individuals and institutions in the international community have also contributed.  It has been calculated that there are 168 million child labourers around the world today.  In 2000 the figure was 78 million higher.  The world has come closer to the goal of eliminating child labour.

The struggle against suppression and for the rights of children and adolescents contributes to the realization of the “fraternity between nations” that Alfred Nobel mentions in his will as one of the criteria for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Oslo, 10 October 2014

 

 At 17, Malala is the youngest person ever to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. Here is a little bit about who she is and the work she is doing, from her web page http://www.malala.org/#1

Malala Yousafzay was born on 12 July 1997, in Mingora, the Swat District of north west Pakistan. She was named Malala, after Malalai, the famous Pashtun Heroine. Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai is a poet, and runs a public school. He is a leading educational advocate himself. In 2009, Malala began writing an anonymous blog for the BBC expressing her views on education and life under the threat of the Taliban taking over her valley. During this period, the Taliban’s military hold on the area intensified. As the Taliban took control of the area they issued edicts banning television, banning music, and banning women from going shopping and limiting women’s education. A climate of fear prevailed and Malala and her father began to receive death threats for their outspoken views. As a consequence, Malala and her father began to fear for their safety. After the BBC blog ended, Malala was featured in a documentary made for The New York Times. She also received greater international coverage and was revealed as the author of the BBC blog. In 2011, she received Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and she was nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Her increased profile and strident criticism of the Taliban caused Taliban leaders to meet, and in 2012, they voted to kill her. On 9 October, 2012, a masked gunman entered her school bus and asked for Malala by name. Malala was shot with a single bullet which went through her head, neck and shoulder. Two of her friends were also injured in the attack. Malala survived the initial shooting, but was in a critical condition. She was later moved to Birmingham in the United Kingdom for further treatment at a specialist hospital for treating military injuries. She was discharged on January 3, 2013 and moved with her family to a temporary home in the West Midlands. It was a miracle she was alive. Ehsanullah Ehsan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that Yousafzai was a symbol of the infidels and obscenity. However, other Islamic clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwa against the Taliban leaders and said there was no religious justification for shooting a schoolgirl. Her assassination attempt received worldwide condemnation and protests across Pakistan. Over 2 million people signed the Right to Education campaign. The petition helped lead to the ratification of Pakistan’s first right to education bill. Her shooting, and her refusal to stand down from what she believed was right, brought to light the plight of millions of children around the world who are denied an education today. Malala became a global advocate for the millions of girls being denied a formal education because of social, economic, legal and political factors. She started the Malala Fund to bring awareness to the social and economic impact of girls’ education and to empower girls to raise their voices, to unlock their potential, and to demand change.

 

 

And, here is a bit about Kailash Satyarthi from his web page Kailash Satyarthi was born on January 11, 1954. He is a human rights activist from India who has been at the forefront of the global movement to end child slavery and exploitative child labor since 1980 when he gave up a lucrative career as an Electrical Engineer for initiating crusade against Child Servitude. As a grassroots activist, he has led the rescue of over 78,500 child slaves and developed a successful model for their education and rehabilitation. As a worldwide campaigner, he has been the architect of the single largest civil society network for the most exploited children, the Global March Against Child Labor, which is a worldwide coalition of NGOs, Teachers’ Union and Trade Unions. As an analytical thinker, he made the issue of child labor a human rights issue, not a welfare matter or a charitable cause. He has established that child labor is responsible for the perpetuation of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population explosion and many other social evils. He has also played an important role in linking the fight against child labor with the efforts for achieving ‘Education for All’.

Two lions and a flock of sheep

Two lions walk into a bar . . . no, that is not this story.

Two lions are playing golf when a flock of sheep walk across the golf course grazing . . . no that is not this story either.

Once in another time and place which is sometime and some place, there was a lion who was wandering across the lands when she came upon a flock of sheep meandering and grazing in a small pasture. As the lion looked over the heard, sizing them up to decide which of them would be supper for herself and her cubs she noticed that there was another lion about. But this other lion was lazing in the middle of the sheep.

This other lion grew up with the sheep since it had been a small cub. It would bleat like the sheep and run about in the pasture like the sheep. Our lion went right for this strange aberration of a lion, and when the sheepish lion stood before the feral lion his entire body and being began to tremble and shake. He had never seen such a magnificent and ferocious creature. The feral lion asked the sheepish lion, “what are you doing here in the middle of these sheep?” The sheepish lion was perplexed and replied, “I am a sheep.” “No, you are not! You are a lion. Come with me.” And the feral lion lead the sheepish lion to a pool, where the two lions stood shoulder to shoulder next to each other. “Look” commanded the feral lion. When the sheepish lion saw his reflection in the water he let out a thunderous roar, and in that moment he was transformed. And he was never the same again.

 

This is another Anthony deMello story. deMello tells the story as an example of awakening to awareness, and how sometimes that awakening is an all of a sudden ‘ah ha!’ kind of experience. And there are moments like that. Transformative moments that shake us, or somehow touch us at the core of our being, kind of like someone finally turned the lights on – I was blind (or thought I was) and now I see. And, I suspect working for social justice and human rights can be a lot like that too in some ways. When you are working for human rights – building protections for people so that things that should never be done to them (like torture, kidnapping, murder, false imprisonment, etc) are never done to them; so that the things that should be accessible to everyone are accessible to them (like food, clothing, safety and security, etc); and so that groups can be groups in their own particular way as long as they respect other groups rights – well, when you focus on those big things, it can get overwhelming. And then, there are these ‘ah ha’ moments when you realize that “yes, we need to think globally, but we must act locally.” And on a local level it is all in the details. And finding and respecting the core of our basic human nature is a pretty important detail. Today, for me, its kindness.

Kindness? Please! Just how important is kindness? As I thought about that, I remembered a story about Hillel, who took a bet that he could not summarize the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel smiled and said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to others. All else is commentary.” Sounds like a description of kindness to me. And then there was Jesus who summarized all of the law by saying, “Love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself.” That sounds like kindness too! And then the Buddha who taught, “hate can never dispel hate, only love can dispel hate.” That sounds like pretty powerful kindness to me.

So, today, this day, let’s all look at ourselves in a pool of clear fresh water and see the kind beings that we inherently are. And let’s go share that kindness with each other. Let’s lead each other to seeing ourselves and each other in the water of kindness, and maybe even pause and lap it up together.

Experiencing Justice with The Lady and the Tramp

The most basic principle of social work practice is to have a clear goal. After all (maybe before all!) if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?!? So, what is justice like? How does it look, feel, smell, sound, taste? What is human dignity like?

Well, on some level we all have a visceral, personal answer to that. Most of us can identify a moment or two in our lives when things just felt right. When all was right with the world, when we did something good for someone else, or maybe when someone did something for us. Now, I’m not talking about winning the lottery grand, but just those moments when things were nice and you found yourself hoping life could go on forever like that. So, go ahead, conjure up one of those moments and bask in it! Recollect how you were feeling, the smells associated with it, the taste it left in your mouth, the sounds around you, the setting and scenery. Bask in all of it for a few moments. Niceness, it is lovely. And that is how I would like everyone to experience fairness and dignity.

And then there is this guy Anthony deMello who offers us this story about a homeless man in London. The man, let’s call him Nigel, has been walking the streets of London all day. He is exhausted, and as night comes on, he finds himself on the bank of the River Thames. It has been a particularly difficult day for Nigel, panhandling has not gone well, he was continually rousted by the constabulary so that he was not even able to secure a bit of bread for himself. He is looking forward to a night’s sleep and a fresh start to the day tomorrow, hoping at least it won’t be raining. Just as he is settling in and about to fall asleep the lights of a car sweep over him, and a chauffeur driven Bentley pulls up near him. A very attractive woman steps out of the car and asks, “Sir, are you intending to spend the night here?” Nigel says, “yes.” And the woman, let’s call her Sofia, replies, “I will not conscience that. You will come with me to my home where you will have a decent meal and spend a comfortable night.” And Sofia insists that Nigel join her in the car, and they ride through London to her mansion. When they arrive at the mansion, Carson ushers them into the mansion. Sofia says, “Carson, please take Nigel to the servants quarters and help him settle in. Be sure that he is treated well and that he has everything he needs to be comfortable this evening.” After a time Sofia goes by to check on Nigel. She sees a bit of light from under his door, and so she knocks on it. Nigel invites her into the room, and Sofia asks, “Is everything alright, Nigel? Did you have a good meal?” Nigel responds, “My lady, I’ve never had a better meal in my life.” “Then are you warm enough?” “Yes, my Lady, the bed is comfortable and warm and lovely.” “Then maybe you need some company to help you to relax and sleep.” And as Nigel moves over just a bit to make some room for Sofia, he falls into the Thames.

Now, when I read DeMello’s version of this story I burst out laughing. I did not see that coming, not at all. But it makes sense. Harboring illusions will not get us justice or respect for dignity. Dreaming may help us to envision a better future, but putting our shoulders to the wheel is what will lay the foundation today for a better tomorrow. So, wake up, drink the coffee, and do some work! We are not required to finish the work, but neither are we free to desist from it!!

And then, because it’s me, I started to think a bit more about the story. And I started to wonder, what if the genders were reversed. What if Nigel were Nancy? What if Sofia were Samuel? How would the fantasy play out? I suppose if it were a gothic romance version Nancy would still be dreaming of her hero Samuel coming to save her. But would even she be dreaming of him crawling into her bed? What if Nancy were a feminist, how would her fantasy play out? If you were homeless, what would make you want to scrunch over in bed? If it were me, I would be dreaming of a warm bed, a decent light, and a good book. But then that’s me.

Ah, and the point of the story was, after all, to wake up, drink the coffee and do the work!

Chiyono and the bottomless bucket

 “If you are as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, you still will not escape slander! Get thee to a nunnery, go!” Around 1600, by way of William Shakespeare’s pen, that was Hamlet’s advice to Ophelia. A continent away in Japan, and 300 years earlier in 1290, Chiyono found herself facing similar options. So, Chiyono set off to the nunnery, to the Zen temple in Hiromi where she was accepted to work as a servant.  Chiyono journeyed to the temple (and agreed to work there as a servant if that was the only way in) because she wanted to attain enlightenment (for the new agers or feminists among you, think empowerment).  For years – years and years even – Chiyono worked faithfully, diligently moping and cleaning, chopping wood and carrying water for the nuns at the temple. And through all those years her desire to attain enlightenment never wavered.

Chiyono would listen and watch the nuns from a distance. She emulated their sitting posture and practice each evening when her work was done. Chiyono sat facing the wall in her room, quietly breathing, quietly chanting the words she heard the nuns saying. And, over the days, weeks and years, nothing happened. Persistently Chiyono practiced what she observed, and still nothing happened, she could feel no progress towards enlightenment.  Eventually, Chiyono summoned up her courage asked one of the older nuns, “Sister would you please tell me the principles of your practice? How can I attain enlightenment?”

The elder nun looked at Chiyono and recognized her as the woman who cooked and cleaned, who chopped wood and carried the water. The nun was a woman of wisdom and compassion and so she said to her, “In your search for enlightenment, you must not cease your effort. The Buddha tells us that at the end of all our exploring we will arrive where we started, and shall know the place for the first time (who knew that T.S Elliot was quoting the Buddha!?!). Enlightenment is not words; it is looking deeply into your own heart, into your own mind, and nurturing the compassion for all sentient beings, the compassion that is always already there.  Each of us is complete and perfect just as we are. But each of us is best by desires for what we don’t have, and by fears of loosing what we hold dear. We are deluded into thinking that we can hold off changes that we foresee; but changes will happen, indeed that there will be change is the only constant. Let go of your delusions. That is the way of Zen. Practice this diligently as you walk, as you work, as you move through each day.” (Ah, new agers and feminists among you, think empowerment here too! Each of us is complete and perfect just as we are; each of us is fully powerful and need only learn to exercise and manifest our unique strengths, skills and powers.)

And Chiyono took the elder sisters words to heart and practiced letting go of her attachments even as she moped the floors and cleaned the lavatories, even as she chopped wood and carried water.  She moved through her days with one pointed focus and determination. As she worked and practiced her letting go, she became ever more compassionate in her encounters with the other nuns in the temple. As she moved through the days, where once she might have felt some resentment for the younger nuns who were free to sit in meditation throughout the day, now Chiyono saw her own work as actions of caring in support of the other’s practice.

One evening Chiyono was carrying her bucket to the well to bring back some water to the kitchen. As she carried her bucket, the bottom which was held on by bamboo strips fell out, and the reflection of the moon in the water vanished. In that instant Chiyono touched enlightenment. This is her enlightenment poem

With this and that I tried to keep the bucket together
And then the bottom fell out.
Where water does not collect
The moon does not dwell.

            For all of that I like the story about Chiyono for the first two lines of her enlightenment poem: “With this and that I tried to keep the bucket together, and then the bottom fell out.” For her, when the bottom fell out she saw through to enlightenment. That resonates for me as I think about how hard we all try to keep it together, wrapping our lives with bobby pins and bubble gum to hold the pieces together. And for us too, maybe only when things fall apart will we find our way to living lives that allow respect for all sentient beings (and isn’t that just what lived human rights are about?) to live lives that respect all sentient beings, all of them. (It is the all of them part that seems to particularly trip me up. It is so much easier to be fully respectful of people I like, people who agree with me.)

            So, I find myself wondering –  what will I see, what will you see, when the bottom falls out, and we have enough compassion for ourselves to remember to look through to the other side.

Eva: three years, three months, three weeks and three days towards enlightenment

When she was a young woman, Eva was able to arrange her life circumstances so that she was able to travel to a remote area in California to study Zen with Shunryu Suzuki for a three year period. At the end of the three years, feeling no sense of accomplishment, Eva presented herself to Master Suzuki and announced her departure. Shunryu Suzuki said, “Eva, you have been here for three years. Why don’t you stay three moths more?”

Eva agreed, but at the end of the three months she still felt that she had made no progress toward enlightenment. Once again she told Master Suzuki that she was leaving, and he said, “Eva, listen, you’ve been here three years and three months. Stay three weeks longer.”

Eva did, but still with no success or even any progress. So, once more she told Shunryu Suzuki that absolutely nothing had happened, he said, “Eva, you have been here three years, three months, and three weeks. Stay three more days, and if, at the end of that time, you have not attained enlightenment, then commit suicide.”

Towards the end of the second day, Eva found enlightenment.

 

When I first read this story, I laughed. I loved it. How wonderful I thought. What a great example/illustration of the importance of deadlines. But then I realized that Eva blew through three deadlines with no effect. Then I thought OK, so deadlines with consequences. And I kind of stopped laughing, and started really thinking about the deeper meaning and implications of the story. I started to search out any misogynist undertones. I looked for feminist highlights. I really teased the story apart in my head until I grew a new furrow line between my eyebrows and got a nasty headache. And I realized that I wasn’t laughing anymore.

So, I reread the story once more with feeling. I let the delight of the aha touch me again with a new freshness. It was there all the time, the laughter, the enlightenment, the love. It is all always already there. We just need to let go of all the other crap, open our hearts and let it in, let it out! It’s there in the silence, in the space between, if only we will pause long enough and listen – really listen to what is, not demand to hear what we expect, what we believe should be. Just listen to what is.

What does all of this have to do with justice and human rights? Well, I’m thinking that if we are going to change our world to be one of fairness and respect for dignity, we first need to be able to envision what that world will be like. We need to become enlightened to the possibility, the real, practical, pragmatic, awareness that it can become so. Then we need to act on that vision, that believe.  

And many of you will say, but I tried, we tried. And many of you will be able to list off lots of efforts, and then you only need to point to the world we live in to demonstrate that we are not there yet.

And I will say to you, remember Eva. You have tried for so long, try a bit longer, try three more months, three more week, try until three minute before you die. Maybe even during those last three minutes, you might could change the world.  But, I will also offer this to us all. Don’t ask the world to change – it will likely say no, or fail to hear your request. Change yourself. Be the peace, the fairness, the respect, the love that you want in the world. Be unconditional peace, fairness, respect and love. Yes, I do mean that, unconditional. No matter what the conditions around you, be peace, fairness, respect and love. And of course it will not be easy. But if we all, each of us could be the peace, fairness, respect and love for 5 or 10 minutes a day, and then for 10 or 15 minutes a day. And if each day a few more folks joined in the practice, well, that would be something. Imagine.

Fifty years ago today: Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream

Fifty years ago today, on Aug. 28, 1963

At the foot of the Lincoln Memorial

Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech:

 (Copyright 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr)

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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Fifty years ago Dr. King had a dream. He had the vision and courage to speak that dream to us all.

Dream your grandest dreams. Then wake up and live them with full hearted courage and love.