Why Human Rights Are My Top Business Priority In 2017

Some may think supporting human rights and equality is a controversial issue. I don’t.
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I don’t believe in talking politics at my business.

It can hurt our brand’s image and has the possibility of turning loyal customers into so-called enemies. I want our business to be welcoming to everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, and political affiliation.

For 22 years, our business policy has been to avoid talking religion or politics at our karate school. In 3 Reasons to Stop Supporting Political Candidates and Start Supporting Causes, I cautioned business owners to always ask “is this damaging my brand?” before making any political statement in public.

Photo by Michael Mims

I added that:

“Your business has one purpose - to stay profitable. Unless you’re hoping to launch a political career, this is not the arena to spout your political viewpoints. Think long and hard before you draw a line in the sand. Be vocal, but try to stick with topics that are largely non-controversial and the majority of your target market will support.”

I still believe that. Yet, 2016 has taught me a very crucial lesson: I can never forget that my business is built on equality. It always has been, and it always will.

Equality is my line in the sand.

We Welcome Everyone

We belong to an international karate organization that’s comprised of people from all races and cultures. We’ve had students that are gay, lesbian, transgender, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Jewish, Pagan, rich, poor, uneducated, highly educated, disabled, mentally challenged and every flavor in between.

I support them all. Not only is diversity the right thing to do, it makes us stronger.

In the past year, we’ve seen how many people turn their backs on those who are different. Not only have we seen it on the daily news, we’ve witnessed it firsthand in our programs.

We have children in our program that were previously denied entrance to extracurricular activities simply because they need a little extra help. Being autistic or having Down’s Syndrome is no reason that you can’t also be a normal kid who wants to learn karate.

This year and every year moving forward, we’re going to focus on teaching every student, regardless of ability or diagnosis. We will continue to be the change we want to see in the world.

Self-Defense Is A Basic Human Right

Regardless of your political affiliation, most will agree that Donald Trump has made some outrageous statements. Whatever the intention of the Entertainment Tonight video, it clarified something for me as a martial arts instructor. I will always support a woman’s right to defend herself from unwanted advances, especially from those in power who say things like:

“I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”

In Bizarro World: Trump, Clowns, and Self-Defense, I explained that Donald Trump’s “Grab them by the p――” remark was a clear reference to sexual assault. Something I can never ignore or defend.

As a woman, mother, and martial artists, here’s how I described this horrific statement:

“That’s sexual assault. It’s not a defensible statement. It’s a crime, regardless of whether or not you are a star. It’s a dangerous mindset for any person to believe. No one has the right to do anything they want without consequences. We have always taught, along with every other credible martial arts instructor on the planet, that it’s never okay for anyone to put their hands on you without your permission. That’s the underlying principle of the entire martial arts philosophy.”

The right to protect our bodies is a basic human right. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women has been victims of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. When we joke about sexual assault, we normalize it.

And sexual assault, and those who prey on women and girls, will never be normal. We will always support the right to defend yourself and reject the notion that it’s okay for the powerful to exploit the weak.

It Begins And Ends With Respect

The fight for equality and basic human rights is not a political issue. It’s about respect.

In The Grown-Up’s Guide To Talking Politics With The Other Side, I explained that my best friend Stephanie is a Republican and I’m a left-leaning Independent. Yet, we can talk politics without fighting. We know that we are always on the same side. Sure, we can have different viewpoints and support different candidates. But our goal is never to beat the other person. It’s never to win.

Martial arts are the same:

“Of course, we fight in class all the time. We love fighting. It’s called Kumite. The rules in Kumite are simple. It always begins and ends with respect. It doesn’t matter how vicious or bloody the fight has been (and no one does knockout, bare-knuckle fighting like Kyokushin fighters). But after the whistle, you shake your opponent’s hand and walk away as friends.”

Human rights begin with respecting those that are different. It’s a willingness to stand up for those that can’t stand for themselves. It’s the idea that you have the ability to make a difference every single day.

President Obama, in his farewell address, stated:

“Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued. They quarreled. Eventually, they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity ― the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”

It always begins and ends with respect. If you’re not willing to discuss or learn from the “other side”, then you don’t support a democracy. If you’re unwilling to compromise, you must want a dictatorship.

We will never be able to rise together if some of us are more equal than others. Will will always support diversity, equality and a respectful attitude of others.

The Most Significant Life

Some may think supporting human rights and equality is a controversial issue. I don’t.

It’s the extension of over two decades of working with the public. It’s a tenant of the martial arts. It’s the belief that each student that walks through our door is worthy of our time and attention. That each one has the ability to reach their full potential. It’s the foundation that our business is built on.

I still believe that supporting controversial issues can be a bad business move. Yet, equality and human rights are everything that I want my business to stand for. There will be those that won’t support me or my vision. That think I’m making a mistake and should remain quiet. However, I can’t do that and neither should my business.

May Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin Karate, was not one to back away from important issues. As a Kyokushin Black Belt and business owner, it’s not only my duty but my privilege to live up to the standards set by Mas Oyama who said:

“The most significant life is the one lived on the basis of a personal sense of justice and the desire to see justice realized everywhere.”

We will continue to speak up and set the example until human rights and equality are realized everywhere.

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