Say "human rights" and each person sees a different mental image. Some see the kid standing up to the tanks in China. Others think of Martin Luther King, Jr., or Thomas Jefferson, pen in hand. Instead of the heroic, others see the harrowing — tortured prisoners, American hostages in Iran, Rodney King, American soldiers in Baghdad.
That's why the United Nations created Human Rights Day and set aside Dec. 10 for it — to bring those images, both good and bad, back to the front of our minds.
This year, the day's theme is "nondiscrimination." The thought being that rights are not only violated by people with bullets and clubs, but by people showing contempt for others in subtle ways.
Discrimination can be about life and death, but more often than not it is an issue of simple human dignity.
The day is an outgrowth of the U.N.'s 1948 resolution promoting international human rights. And each year, it is a major occasion at the United Nations, where speeches are given and panels are convened.
In Geneva this year, 28 countries are meeting today for a summit of international female leaders.
In Africa, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is monitoring a debate on human rights and attending a rally at Freedom Park in Pretoria.
Around the United States, however, the day will likely slide by without creating a ripple.
It should create a ripple.
Even here in the "land of the free," human rights never should be taken for granted. When it comes to racial discrimination, sexism, abuse of the disabled, abuse of children and gender crimes, old bugaboos can reappear in startling ways and in rapid fashion.
Being reminded that we need to monitor our own words and actions and what we say to our children is no imposition.
And today is a natural occasion to discuss such things.
Think about discrimination. Talk to your children. Do something to short-circuit it.
Whether you use the U.S. Constitution, the Bible, the Talmud, the Quran or another source, don't let the day go by without acknowledging to yourself and others the importance of human dignity.