I was putting my son to bed one night when he said, “Mommy … what’s it like to be a human rights warrior?” “Simon,” I replied, “I’m not a WARRIOR. I’m a human rights LAWYER.” He waited a couple of seconds – this kid has an uncanny sense of timing – before saying, “What’s a LAWYER?”
My description of my job put him right to sleep. But this bedtime exchange got me thinking. For 15 years, I’ve worked with survivors of human rights abuses, documenting stories of unbearable loss from every corner of the world. I have observed the absolute worst aspects of human nature, the dark side in each of us that we would rather not know.
It has also been my privilege to bear witness to the very best characteristics of humanity – our capacity to overcome adversity, to hope, to forgive. I’ve seen the immeasurable depth of our strengths and the soaring heights of our courage; the precious gift of our faith. As a parent, I am challenged to distill these experiences into something that Simon – along with his brother Sevrin and his sister Eliza – can understand and profit from: I believe that small acts of courage change the world.
Most people agree that, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Most of us are good people. The problem is that we all have a strong self-preservation instinct – it is incredibly difficult NOT to do nothing. It takes courage to do the right thing, even a small thing.
Kids have natural empathy as well as a strong sense of justice. It is an entirely narcissitic sense of justice, however, which, come to think of it, is not so different from our foreign policy. But something else that I have observed in my human rights work is that the small acts of courage lead to more and bigger ones. This holds true both on the school bus and in the world arena. We just need to find the courage to stand up for what is right.
Like most parents, I try to teach my kids to do the right thing. Frankly, I can’t report much success. The boys bicker constantly and Eliza has recently taken to calling them both “stupid”. But recently, we heard from another parent that when the other kids in the soccer carpool picked on his son, Sevrin put an end to it. “Leave him alone. I’ve cried before, too.” Then, a couple days later, the very same kid acted courageously at the hockey rink. “The big kids wouldn’t let me play,” Simon reported, “until he said, ‘Come on, let the little guy play.’ Isn’t that amazing?”
I believe that small acts of courage change the world. So find the courage to stand up for what you know is right, even if it means that the other kids laugh at you. Because THAT, my Simon, is what it’s like to be a human rights warrior.