"They threw her out the second-story window. She broke her arm and leg." I sat and listened to the Social Worker describe the incident while sitting in my office at the hospital where I worked. She talked about the Group Home, where I had served as Clinical Director a few months prior. The Group Home was a collaborative effort between County Mental Health and a local non-profit program for troubled teenagers.
While working for the Group Home, the teenagers frequently complained about their human rights. Against my recommendation, the organization leaders acquiesced and gave the teenagers more authority over program development and day-to-day activities. I warned the leaders it could be dangerous to the staff. Regardless, they gave the Teens their "rights," and thirty days later they felt empowered to throw a staff member out a second-story window!
The teenagers in the Program asked a legitimate question. "Don't we have rights as humans?"
But what they meant was, "We know what humans should be, so give us our rights.”
California County Mental Health and my Clinical Team supported the Group Home. Together we developed a plan based on our assumptions of childhood development. Teenagers thirst for identity and need healthy structure. Our goal provided a program to boost their self-esteem and self-worth. Our definition of what makes a teenager "human" controlled the rights of the Group Home residents.
It is a lesson to ponder as our country questions its identity, and new government programs mandate what it means to be human in schools and courts.
Here are two examples.
The Biden White House is implementing social programs mandating human rights for transgender individuals. The phrase human rights is a noble statement. But it is not the rights of humans that give Biden's programs their impetus, but the mandate to define what it means to be human.
The Church Times, an Anglican weekly newspaper in London, provides another example. On December 18, 2020, Tum Wyatt wrote:
In an explanatory memorandum, the Bishops (the Church of Wales) acknowledge that scripture and Christian tradition have understood unions of one man and one woman as the only context for sexual relationships. "However, with new social, scientific and psychological understandings of sexuality in the last one and a half centuries, we believe that same-sex relationships can be understood in a radically different way, and that the teaching of Scripture should therefore be re-interrogated," the Bishops write.
According to the Church in London, the Bible would eliminate human rights because its definition of being human conflicts with the cultural meaning.
In both examples, human rights assume the authority to control one's life because of the right to define what it means to be human. Laws and social programs are simply a byproduct of the definition.
As the teenagers in the Group Home, it's not merely the rights afforded humans but the assumption that humans create and control the definition.
These are essential questions for one's self-esteem and self-worth.
If I have the right to be human, do I know what it means to be human? Will my knowledge and wisdom provide the best journey of the human experience? Should I know what it means to be human before you give me the rights to be one?
What about Cancel Culture? Woke Programs? Socialism? They advertise human rights, promising personal freedom. Paradoxically they circumscribe and limit one's rights by their definition of being human.
The common thread in this conflict is the search for significance. The freedom to discover meaning and the fullness of life. No easy task, even if your rights had no restrictions and all comforts of material prosperity.
You can whittle away at life's obstacles, social constraints, economic hardships, and physical challenges. When finished carving, life's questions, and imperfections continue to plague the human condition. You might have attained your rights but missed the right to become who God intended you to be.
It is a paradox of freedom.
"Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:39).
According to Christ, your rights include "finding your life." But it is not your "rights" that unlock the mystery of purpose and significance. One's rights are the opportunity for life's answers, not the answers themselves. Believing you have found the definition of life and humanity precludes Christ's meaning. But to lose your definition and embrace Christ is to find the life God intended for humanity.
During the next four years, new social programs will be developed and implemented by the Biden presidency. The White House will poise itself to define humanity and legally enforce its requirements. Unfortunately, if you don't share their definition of human significance, you will lose your rights.
Will it be good for our self-esteem and personal identity? Or, like the Group Home, will it throw us out the window because we have lost our identity?
Dr. David Zuccolotto is a former pastor and clinical psychologist. For 35 years he has worked for hospitals, addiction treatment centers, outpatient clinics and private practice. He is the author of The Love of God: A 70 Day Journey of Forgiveness.