By Mel White 

My priority issue

On the Bright Side


July 21, 2018

A friend and I were discussing politics the other day -- the good, the bad and the ugly. Too many issues, too many things going on, we agreed. How do we keep up with it all? How do we stay on top of everything? How do we pick and choose where to put our energies and efforts?

Good questions all.

Asked if I had a top issue, a priority issue, I said no, not really. She asked me if gay rights weren't a priority for me and I said yes, they are, but not the only or the main priority. I said I was a woman before I knew I was gay, so women's rights are right up there near the top for me as well as gay rights. I've had friends of all colors and all persuasions most of my life, so I ended up saying I didn't know how to pick a top issue, a top priority.

Long after our conversation was over and we'd gone our separate ways, I finally came up with an answer for my friend, and for myself. One which seemed to suit me and satisfy my efforts in paying attention to so many different things going on in our world at the same time.

I do indeed have a top priority, and that priority is best summed up with the title of, "Human Rights." Every other issue we face, I believe, can be handled well and good if we insure the basic equal rights of all human beings first.

For decades I've been on the front lines for women's rights, abused women and childrens' rights, civil rights for blacks and other minorities, gay rights, Native American rights, immigrant rights. I don't think even as a child I was able to put any of us in separate groups that needed separate rights. I was raised to believe – and I still do – that all people are God's children (thanks to my Christian upbringing), that of all people, as John Denver once wisely observed, it can be said "as different as we are, we're still the same."

I've also never really understood the concept of "us and them" (with the possible exception of when I was a jock playing competitive sports back in the 50s, 60s and 70s... but even then we were opponents really only as long as the game or competition was in progress – before and after we were friends... or at least friendly and/or respectful acquaintances, which we called "sportsmanship.") Again, I credit my upbringing where in Sunday School we sang, "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world," and where in church we learned about love and acceptance, i.e. us AND them. I bought into all that then. And now, while I don't go to church or follow any prescribed religion, I still buy it.

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At home, in my formative years, those lessons were reinforced for me as well, as my parents taught me I was no better or worse than anyone else and that everyone deserved respect, compassion and kindness. They showed me their value system by their actions, and I still credit my folks with laying the groundwork for my on-going inclination to value other people and to want to learn about them (and from them) instead of drawing arbitrary lines in the sand and expecting people to stay on their own side.

Of course I know it isn't always possible to make people treat each other decently, but education and blowing up the arguments that someone else is to be feared "just because" they aren't like us are good starts. Along with laws and societal expectations which shame people who treat other people badly or unfairly (or violently) or who just want to hold on to old fears and superstitions and any other excuses to hate.

All of that attention to human rights is vital, in my mind, to take care of all the other issues we face as individuals, as families, as a neighborhood, as a city, as a state, as a nation and as residents on this precious planet.

© Copyright Marilda Mel White. Mel White, local writer/photographer and long-time human rights activist, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your comments at [email protected]


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