I sat in my hard plastic chair, the translator’s hurried voice coming through my earpiece. I was at the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council representing the anti-torture NGO for which I was interning during my year abroad in Geneva, Switzerland. Minutes prior when I flashed my badge at security and entered the famous conference room, I had been excited. But now I felt I had been kicked in the gut.
Multiple states were aligning against the current discussion on minority rights. They refused to acknowledge corruption and human rights abuses, claiming that their cultures did not require, indeed they opposed, the protection of women or LGBT communities. State representatives accused other speakers of defamation and pointedly exited the room. To continue listening to the translator despite what sounded, to my ear, as racism, sexism, and homophobia was a strong lesson in focus and self-control.
With my organization relying upon this information to develop new strategties to end torture around the world, I learned how to listen and respond constructively to statements opposing my own views. Fighting through the anger and frustration was a difficult lesson to learn.