With Dignity: Even during tenth week

Marika Straw

I’d like to reflect a bit.

This term, I’ve talked about discrimination. I’ve talked about immigrants. I’ve talked about sex trafficking. And I’ve talked about farm workers.

But while all of these are pressing human rights concerns, they don’t necessarily come up very much in our day-to-day life here at Lawrence.

It is important to make informed decisions about how to vote, what petitions to sign and where to buy our food. At the end of the day, our most important contributions to the cause of human rights might not be these decisions, but the decisions we make about how we treat each other.

After all, affirming human rights is, about affirming human dignity, and we make the choice to affirm or deny human dignity every day in our interactions with others.

What do I mean by this? I mean that we can choose to judge people based on their appearances, or not. We can choose to dismiss others’ pain when they come to us for help, or we can listen.

We can choose to objectify and use others, or not. We can push our agenda forward to fulfill our goals, or we can open our ears to the ideas of others.

One of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met was my housemate Janet. Janet’s way of affirming human dignity was simple, but powerful. She reached out to every person she met by looking them in the eye, saying hello, listening to what they had to say and responding with compassion. By doing these things, she affirmed the human dignity of every person she met.

This is very difficult, and even more so at Lawrence. My goal this term was to live like Janet, to affirm human dignity in all of my interactions with others. But this goal was quickly swept out of reach by waves of responsibility and stress.

In my desire to fulfill other responsibilities, I found myself losing track of the responsibility I considered most important: to affirm human dignity. I became wrapped up in my world to the point that I stopped looking outside of it to the worlds of others.

Unfortunately, this is something our culture encourages. American culture tells us that it is perfectly acceptable to be self-absorbed; in fact, it is wise to care more about ourselves than others if we want to succeed and be happy.

As students at a college that is fast-paced and demanding, we are doubly susceptible to this idea and often allow it influence our decisions about how we live our lives — perhaps more than we should. It is far too easy at Lawrence to become so busy thinking about ourselves that we lose sight of things that are more important, both for ourselves and for the world.

Without affirming human dignity, we will never, ever achieve the world imagined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We will not be able to guarantee the rights of the UDHR to the citizens of the world unless they decide to respect each other’s rights and dignity.

And that begins with us deciding to care about each other’s rights and dignity. Even during tenth week. Especially during tenth week.

But even though I may not have done as well as I had hoped this term, I have great faith in Lawrentians’ abilities to affirm human dignity. In my time at Lawrence, I have seen and been the recipient of countless instances of selflessness, affirmation and kindness.

I cannot express how much hope and inspiration this gives me, both for the Lawrence community and for the world we will affect when we graduate. Without this hope, inspiration and support, I would not be capable of writing this column. You can and do affirm human dignity in your interactions with others — even during tenth week. I believe in you.