How many times have you compared one human being to another? How many times have you criticized or judged another person for their actions? When was the last time you thought yourself better than somebody else?
No one is immune to these types of behaviors. It is human to behave as such. But does that excuse the behavior as good and just? Rephrased another way: How often do you enjoy being told that someone else is a better human being than you; that the way you are is not good enough?
I was recently on the receiving end of a battery of criticisms and negativity from someone who often takes pleasure in such activity, but the behavior is hardly uncommon. On an interstate bus ride, I heard an over-loud phone conversation from someone who had a falling out with a sibling over some shoes that were not properly stored; each party believed theirs was the one and only way to do it. Like the saying goes, sometimes we “make mountains out of mole hills.”
Are you asking yourself: What does the above have to do with human rights? Here is the crux. Did you know that Basic Goodness is a fundamental human right?
What is Basic Goodness?
Human rights is commonly mentioned in the same breath with equality, freedom, and happiness. Yet our world as a whole perpetually struggles, as with an overly-challenging recipe, to bring the medley of ingredients that comprise human rights into harmony for all. Such a challenge makes their attainment feasible with varying degrees of success, making it more akin to a trophy than a birthright.
What would happen, though, if the variables that comprise human rights could be distilled to one simple, fundamental tenet? Basic Goodness is that distillation.
For the past year, I’ve been on a new spiritual journey of a tradition formerly unfamiliar to me, which has influenced my perspective on the topic of human rights: the secular tradition of Shambhala Buddhism, which has roots in Tibet.
For those unfamiliar with Shambhala, here is what I’ve learned so far: It neither acknowledges or negates the existence of a Creator; people are born whole, equipped with all they need to be happy. Reality is a function of perception; how we interface with the world is a function of us; what we experience depends on us and no one else; inherent evil does not exist.
Basic Goodness is the foundational principle that every human being is good – without the need to add or subtract any qualities. So strong is this principle that the head of Shambhala, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, classifies it as a human right in his book, The Shambhala Principle.
Basic Goodness as a Right
What could it mean to have the right to Basic Goodness? Could it mean that we have the right to be good if we choose to be? Well, of course we have the freedom to be or do good. But the right to Basic Goodness is more powerful than that. It means that each of us is fundamentally, indisputably good – each of us is necessarily valuable, and no one can take that right away from us or dispute it, which is why we are all covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
You might ask, “But how can we all be considered good when there are all sorts of bad things happening in the world brought about by bad people?” The simple answer is that there is no such thing as a bad person; we are what we think [Buddha], and our actions are often reactions to our fears.
One very important thing I recently learned is that when we fear or distrust someone, that itself is a refusal to acknowledge that person’s Basic Goodness, which translates to disrespect. In turn, when we disrespect someone, we disregard their dignity, which all people have according to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Whereas 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[...]
How can we stop suppressing others, and ourselves, from our fundamental right to Basic Goodness?
1) We cannot possibly acknowledge others’ goodness without first acknowledging our own. How many times have you barraged yourself for not meeting expectations from others or yourself? We weren’t born thinking we weren’t good; we started when we believed someone that said that of us. Therefore, we have to deprogram that belief. The first step is acknowledging your Basic Goodness; know that you are good without having to add or subtract any qualities. This step might entail a lifetime of work; it usually happens regularly on a meditation cushion, where you have to be with yourself in the present moment. It requires kindness, gentleness, and patience with yourself.
2) Once you have come to acknowledge your Basic Goodness, the second step becomes easier, and might even happen automatically. Once you have the confidence that you are Good, fear diminishes and courage blooms. Fear springs from doubt. Conversely, joy, love, and courage spring from confidence.
3) After learning kindness, gentleness, patience, and courage with yourself, and experiencing self joy and love, your generosity of these gifts organically grows, making it easier to bestow on others. Giving these gifts might not be easy, per se, especially if we are under attack. But when we have confidence that we are Good, and have courage, then we can view what others say more objectively, instead of taking offense. The objective view makes it easier to extend the generosity of patience and kindness to others, and these might help you see where the other person is coming from, which is called compassion.
4) The fourth step is beyond us, but happens because of us. Have you heard of the butterfly effect? Whatever we do has an effect on the world at large. Once we extend kindness and compassion to others, those we touch leave with an impression of the same. It might not take effect with them immediately, but once an impression is made, repetition over time reshapes, like a stone weathered by the gentle currents of a stream.
Thus, when we acknowledge our own Basic Goodness, we gain courage and compassion. These, in turn, help us acknowledge the Basic Goodness of others. By acknowledging the Basic Goodness of another through interaction, we plant the seed of understanding-oneself-as-Basically-Good in that person. When those seeds are planted and nourished in others, their internal fears diminish and their courage and compassion grow, leading to expansion to the rest of the world by way of the butterfly effect. :) ♥ :)
Ensuring everyone’s human rights might seem like a daunting task. However, the objective is met by acknowledging the Basic Goodness of all humans, starting our work first with ourselves, at every present moment, in every single now. After working with ourselves, the qualities of kindness, gentleness, and patience can then be organically extended to others, with understanding and compassion.
Go out into the world, and let your Goodness shine so others can find courage in their darkness so they can shine too!
Finally, I hope you don’t mind a plug. I’m currently (Fall 2013) working on an Environmental Education project so the Next Generation of Subsistence Farmers in El Salvador can have clean water and air, and healthy food to eat: http://gogetfunding.com/project/books-tech-for-el-salvador# Please Help!, so basic needs can be met in the future of our world :) ♥ :)
Peace, Love, and Compassion to You,