Creating a Human Rights Culture

Website for Dr. Joseph Wronka

Professor of Social Work, Springfield College, Massachusetts USA
Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva for the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW)
Fulbright Scholar in Social Justice, Poverty, and Human Rights
Author
In democracy dissent is an act of faith. Like medicine, the test of its value is not its taste, but its effect...  - Former U.S. Senator William J. Fulbright

Suggestions for Social Action Strategies (These are from my book and also include questions to discuss with friends, colleagues etc.,.  Recall that "thinking is doing," and expanding our knowledge about what human rights actually means, which include economic, social, cultural, and solidarity rights, ought to move us to create a socially just world.)

Chapter 2: Before and Beyond the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Additional Questions for Discussion and Activities/Actions for Human Rights and Social Justice

Questions for Discussion

  1. Now that you have become familiar with major human rights documents how has this knowledge helped you with a honed understanding of social justice?   Is your understanding now different and/or similar than what you originally felt was the meaning of social justice?  Is that good or bad?

  1. Anything missing in any of the human rights documents?  What might you have added or subtracted from any of those documents?  Would they have looked differently if drafted in 2008?  If so, how so?

  1. How could a document such as the Declaration of Independence speak of equality when it never mentions women?  Worse, it refers to Indigenous Peoples as “Indian Savages.” Is it hypocrisy or the author being a “victim of the times?”  How could such glaring omissions and statements like that happen?   Do you think there are still certain omissions?  When writers say “him or her,” where, for example, might the intersexed fit in?  Or, is that going  “overboard”?  Or, is that not “overboard” enough?

  1. Does public discourse on the recent bailouts on Wall Street discuss human rights, social justice, and the fulfillment of human need?  If not, how do you think you can define the issues in terms of human rights/social justice principles?  Do you think defining issues in terms of human rights would be helpful or not helpful?  Do you think, for example, that the media might emphasize one set of rights, like civil and political rights, expounding freedoms of speech and the press, while only the voices of the rich and powerful are heard?  Would the man or woman on Main Street be blamed by the bombarding o constant advice in the media on how to “save” for the future, when greed and unethical investing has led to tremendous losses of savings?  Can human rights discourse help turn this around?  Or, is it naïve to think that it is the “silver bullet” to slay the “werewolves of wall street”?  Comment.

Chapter 4: At-Risk and Clinical Social Action and Service Strategies Toward the Creation of a Human Rights Culture

Additional Questions for Discussion and Activities/Actions for Human Rights and Social Justice

Questions for Discussion

  1. Perhaps the most vexing issue for helping and health professionals is that jobs may tend to have them compromise their ethics.    Often, they need to turn away clients in need of treatment because they lack financial resources.   They may tell them to go to a city hospital or clinic, fully aware, that these resources are bursting at the seams, treatment only a remote possibility.    They must stop seeing clients after their “benefits” run out.    They turn down clients to collect food stamps because a computer tells them they did not meet the “cutoff” requirement.  Worse, they wonder why they are engaging in such a job, when they should be working globally to try to stop the world food crisis.  Try to engage in an informed and respectful discussion about such ethical issues with others in the field.  How do you feel that you can resolve them?  What should you do?  What do you do?

  1. Do you feel that your clinical training adequately takes into account human rights principles as described in this book?  Is your profession and/or training at-risk?  Are you at risk?  Is the sage Friedrich Nietzsche correct that we should be weary about become monsters ourselves, when we fight monsters?   Does Nietzsche’s comment have direct relevance to the helping and health professions?

  1. Stay with the meta-micro for awhile.  This is that “level” that cannot really be measured, is rather elusive, but always powerful.  It is those we come in contact with everyday often family, friends, significant  others, peers, support groups, even animals, who can have a tremendous impact on our psychological and physical well being.   Do you feel that the helping and health professions should give more attention to this arena?  Or, do they already?   Do the accrediting bodies for the helping and health professions pay attention to this arena?  Or, do they ignore it because it cannot be “measured”?  Our are accrediting bodies “measurement happy”?    Think of people in your everyday life that have helped you.  How does their help compare with the help of professionals in the field?

Activities/Actions

  1. Look up the UN Convention on the People with Disabilities. (CPD)  (Nowadays, one has only to put words in quotes to get the desired website).  Do a similar table of themes and their elaborations as done in this text.  Show the document and/or your table to private and governmental groups that work with this population.  Ask them how their organizations feel about such rights.  Do they find such a document helpful?  If so, how so?   Now do a comparison of that document with the American with Disabilities Act.  How do they differ and/or are similar?  How can any tensions (if any) between them be resolved?  Start resolving them and/or implementing the CPD.  Get your country to at least look at it with an eye toward signing, then ratifying it.

  1. Be kind to a complete stranger today.   If it is a person destitute, a beggar or someone homeless offer what you can be it a coin, or several, a smile, a concerned glance, a silent prayer (however you define it) or whatever you think is a kind gesture.  Write a letter to get a political prisoner out of jail.  If you are prone to expressing anger through the internet, refrain from “flaming” anyone or anything there for just one day.  Ask yourself how all that feels. What is better, kindness or anger?  Should and how can kindness be practiced more each day?  Should it be “random acts of kindness” or “good deed, after good deed, after good deed, until no crook or cranny appears among them” according to the sage Marcus Aurelius?

Chapter 5: A Human Rights/Social Justice Approach to Research-Action Projects for the Helping and Health Professions

Additional Questions for Discussion and Activities/Actions for Human Rights and Social Justice

Questions for Discussion

  1. Numbers are obviously persuasive ways to define a problem.  Even more persuasive is when they are portrayed in human rights terms.  How do you think you could operationalize, that is, measure such concepts as discrimination based on race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, medical condition and the like?  Should you measure such concepts?  Why should or shouldn’t you?

  1. Which do you feel is more effective in advancing human rights and social justice, numbers, meaning, or a combination of both?  Think of some examples from your experience and the media in general.  Is it more persuasive, for instance, to hear about the stories of a struggling, homeless single parent with two infants or see demographic data of homeless single parents in a specific neighborhood?

  1. Bring in a copy of your state constitution and discuss if you feel it is in compliance with human rights principles.  Does it even go beyond some human rights principles not even discussed here?  Does it have a right to rebel for instance (as in New Hampshire with its license plate “Live free or die”)?  Discuss how you can have your state constitution be more consistent with internationally recognized standards of social justice as defined by human rights documents.

Activities/Actions

  1. Human rights documents are an excellent way to define a problem and use descriptive statistics to adequately portray the extent of the problem, which can be defined as a violation of human rights.    Try to have these documents view things from an alternate perspective than as defined in the media.  For example, it has been argued that much of the US infrastructure in its bridges, roads, and water ways are falling apart.   Try to do research to see if there is a correlation between bridges collapsing and workers wages and benefits.   If workers are involved in collective bargaining, do they tend to have more loyalty to their employer and make better products?    It is also an understatement that US autoworkers are “losing” to foreign competitors.    Are US autos inferior?  Are workers paid “unreasonable” wages and/or benefits than those in Japan, for example?   Do citizens of other countries have more time off, less concerns about tuition bills, and/or security in old age?  Recall that rest and leisure, education, and security in old age are human rights.  How would you portray your data?  Do something constructive with it, such as informing a policy maker and/or writing a letter to the editor if not an entire book on the subject.

  1. Show people the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and especially emphasize those aspects which you feel your country has a deficit.  With an estimated 47 million lacking health insurance and 3 million homeless In the US for instance, articles 22 through 30 are by and large violated.  Show a select sample the document with stress upon such articles and ask how they feel about it.  How do they feel about their country being a violator of human rights?  Is that too “strong” a statement?  Do they see providing for such rights, an “evil kind” of socialism and/or is it just the decent thing to do?  Just get their viewpoints and then ask them what they feel is the best way to use the information they gave you.  Do something positive with the information.

Activities/Actions

  1. Do a content analysis of some history books on the grammar, high school, college, and postgraduate level?  Do you think it is true that history is written by the lies of the victors?  Or, have the history books really portrayed the line of events in a non-prejudicial manner?   If you cannot do a content analysis, think back on what you learned in your grammar, high school, and/or college days?  How were minorities portrayed?  If you feel there can be improvement, write the authors and/or publishers.  Share your correspondence in class.

  1. Now that you have thought about what further human rights documents need to be drafted and what they might look like begin engaging in some coalition building.  Go to the Encyclopedia of Associations (a great, fantastic book, usually found in the reference section of libraries) and contact groups, which you feel, may be sympathetic.  Or, go to the Internet and enter words, which you feel may give you the most “hits.”   Try, for example, words like International, Gay, Lesbian, Intersexed; Human Rights, Substance Abuse, Alcoholism; or World Health Organization, Mental Health, Treatment.  See what you get. Then begin making contacts and do something with the contacts to create a socially just society.

Chapter 6: Ground Rules

Additional Questions for Discussion and Activities/Actions for Human Rights and Social Justice

Questions for Discussion

  1. Discuss the basic thrust of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s final statement in this book:

Everyone can be great because everybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.  You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.  You don’t have to know about Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

       2.  Following are some final thoughts that the author wishes to share with the instructor on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict with additional questions for discussion that the instructor may wish to entertain.  The author doesn’t claim, of course, that he has the answers to the Middle East crisis.  However, a basic motif in the book is that the paradox is that the answer is in the “happiness of reflecting together.”  So, here are some concluding thoughts that you may wish to share with students, asking them for their honest opinions as to how the Middle East crisis can be solved through non-violent socially just actions.  The basic question is: how can we engage in a creative dialogue to resolve this issue?

            The author concludes in part with an imaginary scenario between the Israeli and Palestinian representatives to the UN Human Rights Council having a cup of coffee in Bar Serpent an informal gathering place at the United Nations in Geneva.  While obviously the author views the Holocaust as a most egregious pogrom, he is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, mentioned briefly in Chapter 1.  He feels that the world is looking the other way, while many Palestinians suffer from lack of adequate access to food, water, and meaningful work.  He regrets that criticism of the Israeli government can degenerate into Anti-Semitism, as much as, criticism of Hamas can degenerate into Islamophobia.  He tries to give a more or less balanced account of these two representatives, purposely given androgynous names, (Simcha means literally “joy”; Khayrat means literally “good deeds) who both decry the violence, the “slow violence” on the one hand as Malcolm X had mentioned leading to hunger and thirst in the occupied territories, and on the other hand, the obvious violence of dropping bombs on Gaza and vice-versa. He imagines that both the Israeli and Palestinian are sincere friends who really want to resolve the issue.  Recall that social is from the Latin socius meaning “friend” and justice from justic meaning “fair and equitable.”

            They both agree that when there is violence, there is a problem that needs addressing.  “Centuries of religious intolerance” says the Israeli.  The Palestinian agrees.  A major theme of this book is to look at issues within historical context as a means of examining the present.  While the author obviously feels that freedom of religion is important, he questions whether religion can provide an adequate rationale for occupying a particular land.  He also acknowledges that fundamental to the Judaic-Christian-Islamic tradition are crucial notions of  human dignity, duties to our neighbors, including our enemies (who are our teacher…. Recall the words of the Dalai Lama) and concern for the “least of these.”

             He would like an open and honest debate on such issues, but feels that the debate will be “won” only if there is no more bloodshed.  He tries to be sympathetic to the emotions aroused by the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.  He is also sympathetic to a recent World Court Decision (2004)  that referred to the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip.  Yet, he is sympathetic to Israel’s right to exist, or rather co-exist with a Palestinian state as in some of the great historical epochs when Judaism and Islam flourished together in Spain.  What do you think?

            Another theme is that obviousness is often obscured by systems, theories, and/or an educational system run amuck.  For example, children may learn to pledge allegiance to a flag that speaks of “liberty and justice for all”.  However, it is obvious that there are privileged classes in that country.  Yet, one has learned to believe that everyone is equal, blind to the poverty, if not, extreme poverty around them.  Whereas one might search for ways to deal with an economic crisis, through a theoretic lens of  socio-economic “babble,” such as “secondary financial markets” or “speculative interests,” the nearly two trillion dollars spent on armaments by nation states to keep their borders in tact could be spent on creating a socially just world where everyperson, everywhere has a good job, health care, security in old age.  Even if religion were a justification for occupying a land, perhaps one could be amenable to it, if the occupiers more than compensated the former landowners, not force some of them to live in tents for sixty years!.  Obviously, evicted landowners would be recalcitrant and retaliate, met perhaps by bombs and violence.  In fact, the amount of money spent on bombs, that is, this counter violence could more than have compensated those evicted from their fatherland.

            Finally, the author ends by commenting on the frailty of the human condition, as both Israeli and Palestinian slowly go off their diets.  He asks what the above scenario has to say about the fact that we are all plain and simple people, trying to live the best we can.

            What do you think?  How can conflicts in the Middle East be resolved non-violently where everyone can have their human needs, that is rights met and where we do not demonize each other, knowing that we are all plain and simple people trying to live the best we can? How can the conflict in the Middle East be resolved where everyone respects each other’s right to worship and freedom of expression?   Anyway, whereas the Middle East crisis is undoubtedly serious, if millions of children die each day from hunger worldwide, why don’t we hear much about  this problem, which the author sees, nevertheless, as a “class pogrom”?  How can  Martin Luther King’s notion of a “heart full of grace” and “a soul full of love”  help  us as we move toward a socially just world?  Where do we go from here?

Activity/Action:

  1. Given that human rights is the bedrock of social justice, begin making the words of Martin Luther King a reality so that one of his dreams that “all we ask is that you implement what’s on paper” as stated in the front matter of the book  becomes truly real.