Sunday, January 10, 2016

Standardizing warmth and human rights

I was just having a regular chat with one of my close friend in Indonesia via whatsapp when suddenly we were trapped in a conversation about the relativity of perspectives. It began when i told her my trip stories to Andalucia, the beautiful and warm side of southern Spain. I told her how warm it was there, even orange trees on the sidewalk could still manage to produce oranges redundantly in the wintery Europe. I told her that Spain has no crazy wind and rain like the Netherlands, even if it rained we won't suffer from cold as we usually experienced in the land of dikes.

Listening to my story of how i crazy in love with the Spanish weather, her cynical response was: then why you wrapped yourself with shawl and hats in all of your pictures when it was "warm" there?

The way i dressed up in Spain

Well, i have two good reasons. First, i was on vacation and i just bought the shawl and hats, why not wearing them in this winter trip? My new stuffs, after all is in need to be exposed, at least for my own pleasure. Wearing new things in the first week of the new year is as much as fun traveling to a new place with new friends.

Secondly, the way i define warm in this trip is of course a referrence I made to compare it with the current weather condition on where I live: The Netherlands. She thought i was using her standard of warm (she is currently enjoying tropical climate) and thus found the using of word warm in my stories contradicted with the reality i posted in form of photos on social media.  Then i have to explain again to her that although it looks sunny and oranges happily make their appearances hanging out at the branches of the trees, it is still winter in Spain. Sunny and warm in wintery Spain could range from 10 to 12 degree Celcius while sunny and warm in Indonesia could range from 26 to 28 degree Celcius. However, she insisted that i was implying a wrong term because it misled her, warm is warm, it must be used on term of suhu ruang (room temperature). I, because understanding her position who does not experience the cold of northern wind, decided to end the arguments. I joked that even people in Middle East are wrapped with fabrics in such a hot climate, she responded by saying that it is due to the sharia obligation to cover up. An askar (sharia police) in Mecca will chase a man who shows up his shank in the area of the holy mosque if he doesn't dress up properly, she added. Am i wrong? Is she wrong? Well, no, none of us is wrong actually.

Human is created and shaped by their genetics and environment. Perspectives or point of views on seeing things are shaped by experiences and experiments, other directly or through someone else (testimonium de auditu). The chat that i had with my friend reflects this. Geography could play significant key on how terms and believes are being defined. The word warm in Europe is apparently have different standard as in the tropics. Is it make sense to talk about warm in Europe to someone who's exhausted by daily tropic heat? Is there any universal standard for warm?

 I remember 2 years ago during Leiden Ontzet outing my Dutch teacher asked me, "Louie why you hide under the shade? Don't you like to be under the sun?" My answer to him was "For someone who come from tropical country like me, we try to hide from the sun as much as possible." He couldn't understand my statement. It took three months for me to then agree with his view on European way of enjoying sun. After three suffering months of winter in Netherlands i began to love sun and prayed for sunny days.

Simple thing like this lead my imagination elsewhere. If even for "warm" we need to look it from various perspectives due to geographical diversity and the local perception of "warm", can we also apply the same thing to human rights?

Human rights after all is a concept. It is arguably universal. In my small classroom here in one of leading European countries for human rights, we discuss and debate about the standard of human rights and the terrible human rights situation in the eastern hemisphere. Because we live in such a democratic country with good governance and good facilities, we strive for better living condition. Right to vote, right to access information, right for same sex marriage, right to have peace at night. If we speak using this language to the sea gypsy tribes in The Philippines or to the people who live under the religious authoritarian regime like Brunei, will they understand? They live in different geographical location and experience things that have not ever been encountered by other western countries. That experiences shape their values on seeing things. For the majority of this people, maybe, voting is not important. Or same sex marriage. Hence, talking to these people about human rights standard would not be different from me talking about how warm is Spain to a friend of mine who lives in the tropic all of her life.

Human rights is a concept. It is good for everyone. However the term universal itself is seriously debatable. Some culture might do not recognize the concept of human rights at all but it would still be good for them to apply it. Some culture might already recognize this concept, but come up with different application. At the end I suggest that it is true we cannot have one standardized draft of human rights for the entire population of the planet, as it is as impossible to have one fixed term for "warm" in different spots of this earth.

Have a warm January!


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