02/21/2012 12:51 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2012

Human Rights Is a Lifestyle Choice, Not a Fad

Attention Activists: Human Rights is not an occupation. Human Rights is not a project; not a trend, fad or fascination. Human Rights is a lifestyle choice. More and more I hear about, read about, experience and vicariously experience the tension that erupts when a Human Rights impostor is exposed. The tension is justified, impostors are charming and convincing that they are advancing toward the cause of a greater humanity. But before those of us that are genuine point the finger of blame, let us first examine how many fingers point back at us.

Are you living as Oprah calls, your best life? What kind of energy are you putting out into the world every day? If we are honest with ourselves, we can identify how we are not necessarily being the best every waking moment of the day. The refreshing part about realizing that you are not perfect is knowing that you are not alone; where you are weak, we are too.

So how can we make ourselves strong? I happen to think it is through living in harmony. A few years ago, I had a striking conversation with a colleague about harmony. We talked about how disconnected people are from each other and then explored what we thought harmony was about as it applies to music and then as a model toward a better humanity.

In music, the most harmonious sound is when individual notes come together in a melody. The uniqueness of each note can only be fully appreciated when in position with other notes. In a way, each note allows the other to shine and collectively, they strengthen each other's sound.

My colleague and I made a consensus in our conversation; each of us on the planet have our own "note" to play. As we tune our note, we must move in solidarity with others to sustain the melody. The melody is a life-style of Human Rights. We ended our conversation with philosophical arguments about the current framework for Human Rights and eventually agreed that Activists must dedicate their lives to strengthen the melody so that it is truly applicable to all.

Tuning the melody of Human Rights for all applies to those with misguided intentions as well as those with informed ones. Part of the deal as an activist is to realize that you will attract the personalities and intentions of the good, the bad and the ruthless. Yet, each type of personality is an important note within the melody we seek to play. The question then becomes, how do you play your note to positively influence the tune of another?

I am often plagued by the nonsensical way in which things operate. World systems for economy, international dialogue and civic participation all seem foreign to the way they should intuitively run. There are all sorts of formalities and hierarchies that even those of us fighting against the status quo find ourselves striking what we hope to be a happy medium between operating in the world as it is and forming the world we want while struggling to be good to each other in the process.

The tension between having to live somewhat by the world system in order to gain influence to then change it and the desire to rebel, is familiar territory to activists and probably the very reason why some wind up as impostors. To navigate both worlds we should recognize our fallibility. As an activist, I have a few tools that I have developed over the years that help keep me in line with living the world I want to see.

My personal toolkit is far too long to cover in this piece, so instead, I would like to share my top three things that anyone can do.

The first thing that helps me to tune up my note for a Human Rights melody is to deeply listen. Particularly as a Westerner, I find that when I silence my thoughts, pause and just sit with what someone is saying to me, I have a better connection with them. I am not always successful in doing this, and neither will you be, but what is important is to keep trying. To help with deep listening, meditation is a great tool.

Secondly, I constantly challenge my assumptions. For example, suppose I were to say that murderers need to be locked away for life. One could reasonably challenge that I a) believe that people that murder are of no use to society and b) that people that murder cannot be redeemed. There are other assumptions you may draw from the example. The key in challenging assumptions is to expose and compare them with Human Rights ideals. If your assumptions neither line up with the tenants of Human Rights, nor will your actions.

Thirdly, I consciously take every moment I can to do small, kind acts. Whether it is holding a door open, smiling at someone when we catch eyes, or making a point to get to know someone, I remind myself that the little things count. The key for these acts are the energy you release. You have to make up your mind to stay positive and let the positive energy take over.

Do not be fooled, playing your note is not always a smooth task, but is one with benefits that outweigh any hardship. What would you add to your toolbox? Let us start the dialogue and commit actions.