Concepts like the sanctity of life and brotherhood of mankind date back to ancient times and feature in a number of different religious traditions. However, many of today’s ideas about human rights have roots in Renaissance Europe. Later, in the 1700s, philosophers arrived at the idea of “natural rights.” These rights came from a higher authority: a government could not bestow natural rights and shouldn’t try to take them away. The English thinker Locke and his French counterpart Montesquieu developed ideas about natural rights and governance that had a profound impact on the philosophies of more familiar names like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams.
The blood-soaked first half of the 20th century was a human rights train wreck. But one thing that sprang from of the ashes of the Second World War was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sovereign governments weren’t forced to do anything, but human rights were defined and standards were set. By the 1970s and 1980s, ideas about human rights even helped undermine communist governments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
But there’s more to life than government and public policy. How people treat each other as individuals matters a lot, too.
The video we’ve posted below is a public service announcement that aired on Portuguese television almost 20 years ago, soon after the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The setting is an airplane. A white woman is seated next to a bespectacled young black man who’s reading a book. She’s clearly unhappy about her neighbor and flat-out tells the flight attendant she doesn’t want to sit next to a black person. “Do something.” The flight attendant says she’ll speak to the captain about it. The captain has a brilliant solution that provides a twist ending.
What did you think of this public service announcement? Is it a relic of its time and place or is it still relevant today? Give us your thoughts in the comments at Facebook. Like and share: your friends may have things to say, too.