Dignity for All: Building a Culture of Human Rights

photo A mural created by children at Tenderloin Community School in San Francisco under the leadership of artist Martha Heavenston Nojima, inspired by a poem by Daisaku Ikeda about multicultural America  [Kingmond Young/]

"I am convinced that the development of a culture of human rights throughout the world is one of the most important contributions that can be made to future generations. The foundation for this culture is enshrined in the principles of the Universal Declaration. A culture of human rights would result in a profound change in how individuals, communities, states and the international community view relationships in all matters. Such a culture would make human rights as much a part of the lives of individuals as are language, customs, the arts, faith and ties to place. In this culture, human rights would not be seen as the job of 'someone else,' but the obligation and duty of all."
(José Ayala Lasso, the first United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights)

What is a human being? This is not just an abstract philosophical musing, but a practical question about how far our species has to go before our common humanity is fully realized.

We are still far more easily pulled toward a consciousness of our differences than to an awareness of our commonalities--a fundamental reason why discrimination, exploitation, bigotry and war hold such sway in our world today.

From the perspective of Buddhism, our ability to perceive the inherent dignity of our own lives opens our hearts and our eyes to the dignity of the lives of all people. This awareness diminishes all economic, social or cultural barriers. It can open the path to cooperation, respect, peace and the flourishing of communities--to a culture of human rights.

The vision of a world in which the dignity of all is upheld and honored is what has driven some of the greatest pioneers in history, people who have championed the cause of their own and other people's advancement, often under the banner of "the rights of man" or "equal rights" or "human rights for all."

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 60 years ago on December 10, 1948, represents a monumental collective step toward this vision. The principles of the Declaration have provided a foundation upon which the vision of a global culture of human rights can be constructed and made real. This issue of the SGI Quarterly looks at how people around the world, in different circumstances, are doing that.