December is Human Rights Month and December 10 is Human Rights Day.
It is observed every year on this day since 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In recognition of this notable achievement, for the month of December I will be posting a series of blogs,
“Towards Human Rights.” The purpose of this blog series is to make the case for the implementation and acceptance of human rights as a global values system. It is based on my Human Rights: Towards a Universal Values System?
“…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” … Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
Towards Human Rights as a Global Values System, part 7
By Dr. Denise R. Ames
A History and Philosophy of Human Rights
“Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, sharing other people’s suffering. On these lines every religion had more or less the same viewpoint and the same goal.” … Dali Lama (Tibetan Buddhism)
Ubuntu, Part 1
The African philosophy of Ubuntu (humanness) contributes to modern human rights ideas. Ubuntu (pronounced as uu-Boon-too) is a cultural view of what it is to be human and focuses on people’s commitment and relationship with each other. The Ubuntu philosophy encourages respect, sharing, helpfulness, caring, unselfishness, and serving the community.
The word has its roots in the Bantu languages of Africa, which spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa beginning around 3,000-2,500 BCE and continues today, especially in the
southern part of Africa. Ubuntu forms the basis of the African philosophy of life, which is played out in daily life experiences. It is used everyday to settle different levels of disagreements and conflicts. According to Ubuntu, there is a common bond between us all, and it is through this bond that we discover our own humanity.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Tutu (b. 1934) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for speaking out against apartheid in South Africa. He movingly describes the philosophy of Ubuntu …
“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness, about wholeness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas we are all connected and what each one of us does affects the whole world. When we do well, it spreads out to the whole of humanity. A person with Ubuntu is open, compassionate, hospitable, warm, and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
The concept of Ubuntu defines the individual in terms of his/her multiple relationships with others. It follows the Zulu (a tribe in southern Africa) saying “A person is a person through (other) persons.” This means that a person who acts with humanity towards all will eventually be an ancestor worthy of respect and admiration. Those who uphold the belief of Ubuntu throughout their lives will, in death, achieve a connection with those still living. The three following sayings form the practice of Ubuntu and are deeply rooted in traditional African political philosophy.
Traditional Ubuntu Sayings
- To be human is to uphold one’s humanity by recognizing the humanity of others.
2. If and when one is faced with a choice between wealth and the safeguarding of the life of another, then one should [choose] the preservation of life.
3. The king owes all his powers to the will of the people under him.
Visitors have a special place in the hearts of Africans. According to their tradition, they do not need to burden themselves with carrying belongings as they travel. It is part of the African custom to make every individual visitor as comfortable as possible. Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, explained, “When a traveler through a country would stop at a village, he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and entertain him.”
In the African nation of Zimbabwe, when individuals follow Ubuntu rules they do not call elderly people by their given name; instead, they are called by their family name. The purpose of this tradition is to reject individualism. The individual identity is replaced with the larger group identity that encircles a person.
About the Author:
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.
For more information about the topic of human rights see Dr. Ames’ book Human Rights: Towards a Global Values System, $17.95, 225 pgs. Also available on Amazon.