So … What Exactly Is It That You Do Again?

Interviewing refugees in Ghana
It all began, as so many things do, with a misunderstanding.  I was putting my son Simon to bed one night when he said, “Mommy … What’s it like to be a human rights warrior?”  “But I’m not a human rights warrior. I’m a human rights lawyer.”  He waited a couple of seconds – this kid has an uncanny sense of comedic timing – before wrinkling up his little nose and saying skeptically, “What’s a LAWYER?”     
I may never know what kind of weapons he thought I was secretly carrying in my briefcase because my description of my actual job put him right to sleep. But this bedtime exchange got me thinking.  For 15 years – more if you count my student experiences – 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 acknowledge.
You might think that this would make me pessimistic about the world in general and Homo sapiens in particular, but the impact has been quite the opposite.  It has been my privilege to bear witness to the very best characteristics of humanity – our capacity to overcome adversity, to hope, to forgive.  I’ve heard inspiring acts of courage; seen the precious gift of faith. 
At the UN in Geneva
While I have many stories from my experiences in human rights work, I realize as I write this that most of them have never been shared with anybody.  Stories of human rights abuses don’t exactly lend themselves to cocktail party conversation.  How do you convey the complex political and social conditions that lead to human rights abuses, honor the victims, and avoid grossing people out with the horrible details – all in a two-minute elevator speech? And how do you even stop talking about injustice once you start?
As a parent, however, 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.  My goal in writing this is to think more intentionally about what I’ve learned from my work in human rights so that I may one day pass these lessons along to my kids.  Perhaps these reflections will be interesting or inspiring to others as well. 
While I am proud to be the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, this blog reflects my personal views rather than those of the organization.  


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