April 2023

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As I watch, read about or listen to various presentations of current events I often hear the term “narrative” to help explain the what the particular news story is about. This has spurred my curiosity about just how various narratives influence our thinking and responses, including, as related to TWAICB, perceptions about the meaning of the term “human rights.” The Narrative Initiative explains,

“From the moment we learn our first words, we absorb thousands of stories that teach us how to live and be in the world. These stories are entrenched with powerful ideas and themes. This is narrative.”

While narrative can have a significant impact on many aspects of our lives, such as how we see ourselves and our relationships with others, in this message I am especially concerned with how narrative influences our views on current social-political-economic dynamics and whether we can muster the will to speak up and take action, individually as well as collectively, rather than feel discouraged or overwhelmed. This Wikipedia “Political Narrative” write-up offers helpful insights about how storytelling, that might be or not be fact-based, by political entities and the media can influence the way we form our opinions about political candidates, members of our communities and proposed policies, such as those that could deal with such issues as gun violence. My take from this is that we must recognize the narratives that influence our ways of thinking, determine fact from fiction, better understand what might motivate these narratives, and then open our minds to new perspectives. To this point, in May 1954, Martin Luther King delivered a sermon he titled, “Mental and Spiritual Slavery” at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. King offers insightful examples of what can influence the narratives people put forward, and then encourages his audience to speak up and act, rather than remain silent.

For the last 30+ years I have enjoyed being part of a friends and family Passover Seder where we tell the traditional story of Moses leading people out of Egypt and their bonds of slavery, and then share ideas about the meaning of freedom, our central theme. A number of years ago I contributed to our freedom discussion the lyrics of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, inspired by the lines, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, only ourselves can free our minds.” These lines seem even more relevant to me today, as I hear so many comments about the futility of our times, that we’re all so polarized, that so many problems we face, such as climate change are seemingly insurmountable.

A recent Laura Flanders segment features V (formerly Eve Ensler) speaking on “Reckoning With Our Past, Transforming the Future.” V poignantly implores us to open ourselves to envisioning the world we want to live in, to take the risk of seeing these possibilities and then creating pathways to make this happen. She says, “What we cannot see cannot unfold.” To me, this is one way to emancipate ourselves from restrictive narratives and consider how to move forward to address the concerns of our time.

Furthering V’s message, taking inspiration from our youth, I want to reference the recent UDHR Town Hall presented by the juniors of the Developmental Psychology for Adolescents class at Arroyo High School. This year, the students chose the theme Light the Path. During this presentation, students portrayed current situations they are deeply concerned about, such as being fearful of expressing their worries about their gender identity, and how they want to address these concerns. I asked the students during the Q & A period how knowing about the UDHR affected their developing this presentation. One of the students explained that the Articles of the UDHR helped them find a place for where their issues of concern were situated, and that the aspirational right stated in the given Article offered them a “path” to take action.

We offer resources to encourage your own envisioning of the world that is possible to address your areas of concern, as well as to distinguish fact from fiction, and to speak up and take action, individually and collectively.  Our attention and engagement are vital ingredients to furthering what so many before us have done to bring about a world that provides equality, justice and dignity for all people.

With appreciation and best regards,

Sandy Sohcot, Director

Using the UDHR to Guide Positve Action