Paula Franzese, the Peter W. Rodino Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law, was a feature presenter at the 14th annual International Human Rights Summit held at the United Nations. The Summit is a three-day event featuring presentations by international dignitaries and human rights advocates and is attended by UN officials, ambassadors and NGO officials from across the world along with youth advocates and would-be youth advocates.
Professor Franzese was invited to speak by Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI), which sponsors the event. YHRI is a nonprofit created to inspire youth to become advocates for tolerance and peace through education on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; it has more than 150 chapters and its educational materials have been translated into 27 languages and introduced into 195 countries.
At the event, Professor Franzese, an acclaimed advocate for human rights and a renowned champion of empathy as a means of doing good in the world, exhorted the crowd of nearly 500 to live lives of servant leadership with work that stands as "Love made visible."
Her speech, entitled "The Work," follows:
Be grateful to have work to do. It is a safe harbor against the heartbreaks and sorrows of this life. Do it, not for your own sake but, on behalf of the people and constituencies, many still unknown to you, who nonetheless are waiting for you to use your expertise to make their lives better.
Do the work to vindicate the legacy and sacrifice of those on whose shoulders you stand. Do it because in these fraught times and in a world divided, the very commitment to social justice gives hope.
Do the work to cultivate proximity to those whose experiences, identities, and circumstances are different from your own. Proximity is empathy's gateway. It is an antidote to the indifference that the facelessness of virtual worlds breeds.
Proximity to the "other," however and whatever you conceive that to be, becomes a reminder that the burdens of your own struggles and circumstances do not relieve you of the imperative to acknowledge and to see others in theirs.
Do the work to cultivate humility, best described by C.S. Lewis as "not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." Do it to take charge of your focus, so that it becomes less self-seeking and more "other"-reaching.
Do the work to help you to remember what you stand for, even more than what you stand against. There is more power in standing for decency, fairness, and the cause of justice than there is in decrying injustice. Rather than call out the wrong-headed, do the work to be able to call in people of good conscience.
Do the work because these are uncertain times for the promise of equal access to justice. Particularly now, be glad for the acuities that allow you to show up with the force of reason and rightness to be an instigator, catalyst, and defender of the rule of law and the promise of mercy.
Do the work to give you standing - the right that preparation and experience affords - to advance the cause of progress, champion the underdog, and give voice to those yet to find their own. Do it to see what needs to be seen and then, having seen, to tell the stories of those left out and left behind. A Nigerian proverb makes the point: "Until the lion has a historian, the hunter will always be the hero."
When there is so much to do, and it sometimes feels that you push that boulder up the mountain only to have it tumble down again, remain mindful of Camus' choice to interpret the myth of Sisyphus through a lens of hope. Camus writes that while some might see only futility in the task at hand, he chooses instead to see the nobility of the very effort. He notes, "The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."
Optimism is a daily choice. So is love. Do the work so that it might become "love made visible."