Perspectives on the Meaning of Dignity

Dignity by Virginia Jourdan

Our Director, Sandy Sohcot writes:

On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2019, we’ll enjoy welcoming people to Reclaiming Dignity, the opening of the exhibit of Virginia Jourdan’s paintings inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  The centerpiece of the exhibit is this magnificent painting Virginia named Dignity, based on reading the UDHR and considering its significance.

When I first saw Dignity, I was taken both by the woman’s striking beauty, and, for me, the idea that her beauty reflected the essence of dignity because she embodied all the rights spelled out by the UDHR.

We named this event Reclaiming Dignity because we want the opportunity to explore what dignity is about and how its meaning is connected with love, humanity and human rights.

In reading various articles about dignity, like that of Audrey Chapman in the Health and Human Rights Journal, I have found that fully defining dignity is like trying to explain such important concepts as love, hope, justice and friendship. Yet, I believe we ought to further explore its meaning in connection with our common endeavors toward positive social change, as well as what it means to fully developing our own potential and enjoying enriched relationships with others.

This recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle highlights the work of Visionary of the Year nominee Eileen Richardson, through her program Downtown Streets Team. Eileen explains that the focus of the program, which is to help homeless people become thriving individuals again, is to help street people:

“Gain or regain a sense of dignity and purpose.” Eileen explains further, “You can’t expect someone who’s been homeless for years to just get up one day and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to get a job and get off the street,’…No matter if it’s housing or a job, you need to build dignity and confidence if you’re going to really successfully move ahead.”

2/3/2019 San Francisco Chronicle eEdition

Further exploration indicates that what Eileen Richardson explains about the role of dignity in addressing homelessness applies universally.  In her Ted Talk titled Declare Dignity, psychologist Donna Hicks articulates the depth to which experiencing dignity or having one’s dignity violated, plays a role in resolving conflict, whether between two people or between sides of major community or international disputes.  In her 2013 Psychology Today article What is The True Meaning of Dignity, Donna notes:

“Dignity is our inherent value and worth as human beings; everyone is born with it. Respect, on the other hand, is earned through one’s actions… After people learn about dignity, a remarkable thing happens. Everyone recognizes that we all have a deep, human desire to be treated as something of value. I believe that it is our highest common denominator…. This shared desire for dignity transcends all of our differences, putting our common human identity above all else… The glue that holds all of our relationships together is the mutual recognition of the desire to be seen, heard, listened to, and treated fairly; to be recognized, understood, and to feel safe in the world. When our identity is accepted and we feel included, we are granted a sense of freedom and independence and a life filled with hope and possibility.”

The UDHR spells out the rights each and every one of us ought to experience in order to thrive as human beings and interact so as to have a world of peace, equality and justice.  Recognizing and reclaiming the importance of every person experiencing their dignity may be key to not only enriching our personal lives, but also helping us grapple with and address the complexities behind our current sociopolitical conflicts, and ultimately supporting our collective efforts to help manifest the words of the UDHR at home and beyond.

Here are a few questions you might consider discussing with your family and colleagues to continue the conversation on dignity and its meaning:

  • What are examples of situations that have caused you to feel a loss of dignity?
    • In these examples, what has helped to restore your sense of dignity/self-worth?
  • How does your own experience with dignity connect with a community issue of concern to you?
  • How could your understanding of the importance of dignity help bring attention and possible positive action to addressing this concern?

Join us on February 14th, 21st or 23rd to be part of our exploration of dignity, or send us your thoughts on dignity and its significance at info@theworldasitcouldbe.org

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