I hope that my American readers will understand that the men who founded this country separated us from the King of England by professing what we, the people of the United States, wanted to prove to the world. One statement made in that very declaration was the “we hold these truths to be self evident; that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights“. We of the UUA refer to those truths in the first principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
We hold this principle to be self evident; we are all human, and as such, we are each born with similar abilities and limitations. Some of us have a talent or an inclination for certain types of contributions, and some of us have significant limitations in certain areas. Even while acknowledging those differences, the UU movement says that we can all choose to contribute, and that we all have something to offer; each and every one of us has inherent value. We don’t need Divine Revelation or Holy Writ to confirm it, a brief look at history tells us that Thomas Edison was dyslexic and Helen Keller was a notable lecturer and activist. I used to work in a residential facility for adults, many of whom were profoundly limited in their development, but some of those people had such a great attitude that it was a joy to be there helping them; there is no disability that prevents a person from adding value to the world.
We promote this idea with little gestures: smiling at people we pass through out the day; thanking people for little courtesies, to encourage civil behavior. We do things for our communities by sponsoring initiatives like the Welcoming Congregation program, to train our staffs to meet the needs of different gender expressions and orientations. We act in our communities to support civil rights, education and available health care so that no one is denied the chance to pursue happiness. On the national level, the Standing on the Side of Love campaign seeks to bring all families together and offer them a chance to better their lot in life, from immigration reform to gender equality.
By promoting the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we assert the value of human life and humanity as a whole. We can look at human history and see that innovation and invention come from all races, cultures, economic groups and ability levels. When the need arises, we can’t predict who will supply the tipping point for change. Every person is born a valuable member of society; it is up to us to foster that value, helping them find ways to contribute and grant them the dignity we all crave.
We do ourselves great harm when we give up on a person or a community. We risk loosing all the things they could teach, improve or invent in their lives. When we devalue even one human life, we devalue our parents, our children and our communities by saying that the base line value of a human being has been lowered, and it becomes that much harder to prove your worth. When America ended slavery, we earned the works of George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. Slavery has not ended in the world, and there is no way to know how much humanity has lost by repressing the millions of men, women and children of the world?
This first principle sets the stage for the rest by placing us in the mindset that we have to look at a person as a whole. Not just for what they’ve done or said that harms us, or even helps us, but for all they have made of themselves and all that they might do. We look at this in a positive light, ascribing as much value and dignity to them as their actions allow and hoping to inspire them to create more. We set a positive example in our relationships, and a positive expectation for people to live up to. I don’t think it is at all random that this is the first principle; this it is a crucial principle in shaping the way we interact with each other. By affirming and promoting this first principle, we empower all people to live up to the remaining six.