Dignity

Dignity comes from the Latin, dignus, which means worthy. In researching articles from the past two decades I was surprised to see the spectrum of beliefs in regards to dignity. Some articles speak of dignity as a birth right while others claim that dignity is a useless concept. [1][2][3]

Modern neuroscience has shown that a perceived violation of our dignity stimulates the same part of the brain as a physical wound.[4] Violations of dignity can lead to arguments, violence, and even wars. The American Revolution was a product of twenty-seven grievances towards the British that included neglect, oppression, and harassment. This emotional and physical injury led to the American Revolutionary War from 1775-1783. Still today injustices in neglect, oppression, and harassment cause great injury to dignity and continued conflict in the world. These injustices are both intentional and unintentional. These injustices are both real and perceived. We are hardwired to hurt each other. This pain is often fueled by fear, anger, and shame. In order to stop the cycle of injury we must become aware of our own dignity and of the dignity of others.

Dignity is often expressed as an external judgement on the character of an individual. The dictionary definition of dignity is, “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.” This definition leads us to believe that the dignity of a person is based upon an outside judgement. 

Consider for a moment that dignity is an internal state derived from our acknowledgement of the value and vulnerability of every living thing in the world. If dignity is an internal state than no judgement of another can alter our dignity. If dignity is an internal state than despite the injuries and insults of the world, we can maintain internal peace that is borne of our unyielding commitment to embrace the value and fragility of all life.

If dignity is an internal state than no one can ever take our dignity away from us. In fact, the only way for us to injure our dignity is to attack the dignity of another person or to attack our self. Every relationship is defined by dignity. When we strike at the dignity of another, we create a wall of judgment and bitterness. At the same time if others attack our dignity, yet we remain centered in our conviction that all life is valuable and vulnerable, and act with integrity, our dignity remains.  

 

  1. https://academic.oup.com/ojls/article-abstract/37/4/862/4061560?redirectedFrom=fulltext Dignity and Human Rights: A Reconceptualisation. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Volume 37, Issue 4, Winter 2017, Pages 862–885
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5355899/ The Concept of Dignity and Its Use in End-of-Life Debates in England and France Camb Q Healthc Ethics. 2016 Jul; 25(3): 404–413.
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC300789/ Dignity is a useless concept. BMJ. 2003 Dec 20; 327(7429): 1419–1420.
  4. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/302/5643/290.long Eisenberger NI, Lieberman MD, Williams KD. Does rejection hurt? An FMRI study of social exclusion. Science. 2003 Oct 10;302(5643):290-2. doi: 10.1126/science.1089134. PMID: 14551436.
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