I just read a post by Rachel Cohen-Rottenburg, The Empathy Issue Is a Human Rights Issue, and it got me thinking about the rights I take for granted.
The first right I list below, “to be identified and treated as a member of the human race”, is a direct reaction to some of the quotations in Rachel’s post – statements she has found in certain academic papers on the subject of autism and empathy. These quotations indicate that a significant number of researchers – some at the top of their fields in psychology and neuroscience – are denying autistic people their humanity based on perceptions of limited or absent empathy. I take great offence at the implications of this – I feel strongly that this is a dangerous direction to be heading in: once you start thinking of a group as non-human the next step is to treat them as non-human, without human dignity and rights.
If anybody reading this feels that this seems a small point to be taking issue with, may I remind them that, historically, labelling a group as inferior has been a prelude to their exploitation (enslaving black Africans) or persecution (denial of freedom to women to this day in parts of the world). I will speak out against such malicious, pernicious misrepresentation because I believe we are all human with all the worth and dignity that entails. There are some people who would twist and restrict their definition of human to divide their world into “people like me” and “people different from me” – with the latter group being summarily cast out from the human race. Here’s a thought for you: would you feel it was more offensive if instead of autistic people it was black, Jewish, disabled, terminally ill or English people that were being called non-human?
So, having said my piece on that subject, here’s my take on the rights I claim, and what I will give in return.
- I have the right to be identified and treated as a member of the human race.
- I have the right to express myself in whatever way is most natural for me to the extent that it does not breach the rights of any other person.
- I have the right to hold my own opinions and beliefs and not have them imposed on me by others.
- I have the right to be free from intolerance, intimidation, exploitation, persecution and abuse.
- I have the right to feel safe and free from anxiety, and the right to seek a place of safety if I feel threatened.
- I have the right to be different without interference or being told that there is something “wrong” with the way I am.
- I have the right to expect understanding from other people.
- I have the right to make mistakes without incurring any disproportionate penalties.
- I have the right to be left alone in peace when I need to shut down.
- I have the right to choose who I associate with, and who I do not associate with.
- I have the right to ask for help when I need it, and the right to refuse help when I do not.
- I have the right to live, or the right to die should I choose to.
I don’t believe that rights are automatically inalienable or that they exist in isolation; instead I believe that to expect one’s own rights to be respected, one must respect the rights of others. To that end I submit the following undertakings.
- I will take responsibility for my own actions.
- I will treat other people as I would expect to be treated myself: with understanding and compassion.
- I will be tolerant of other people and will not intimidate, persecute, exploit or abuse them.
- I will allow other people to express themselves and to act in whatever way they see fit as long as they do not infringe upon my rights or the rights of others.
- I will not force my own beliefs and opinions on other people.
- I will offer help to those in need and refrain from interference in the affairs of those who want to be left alone.
- I will accept that everybody is different and that this does not affect their worth as human beings.
- I will dissociate myself from those who breach my rights or the rights of others, and will not tolerate them as long as they cause harm.
- I will judge others based on how they treat myself and others, and not on how they might differ from me.
- I will endeavour to correct any mistakes I make.
- I will accept that nobody is infallible and forgive accidental mistakes by others.
- I will accept restriction of my rights should I fail to fulfil my responsibilities.