In the end, it’s all that we want. A little dignity. While our craving for community, love, wealth or all of the above may be lifelong pursuits, in the moment, when interacting with others, really what we’re looking for is the feeling that we are being heard, and that our thoughts, feelings and words matter. That we are valued.
The character competency, one of 8 pillars identified in “The Daily Undoing: Being Better at Being Human” performs two integral tasks: it points our moral compass, and it provides resiliency. I want to talk briefly about the former in this post, and why you and I need to constantly and intentionally work on keeping our character compass pointed toward the north star of dignity – both to self and to others.
You may be like me, and work with a lot of people in your day to day life. Some with whom you genuinely enjoy interaction. Others, you’d rather spend time deep cleaning your bathrooms in preparation for your first post-covid dinner party. We could get into these diverging personalities feature by feature, and why we resonate with some while reject others, but the truth is, dignity trumps all. Everybody deserves it, and it’s up to us to serve it – more often than we do.
But having dignity is two fold. It is reciprocal. It means having dignity in the way you feel about, and carry yourself, but also extending dignity (respect) toward others. If this begins to sound like the golden rule, and you feel the urge to excuse yourself from something so elementary and mundane, please do so. But if you feel even the slightest bit culpable in the way you’ve ever left the feeling of self-worth of another human, and want to improve, read on. As we begin to drift back into full-on and hybrid versions of pre-pandemic workplaces, it will be more important than ever to recognize how you give and take dignity.
Dr. Tim Baker writes, in The Australian Institute of HR’s news site, “Instead of a place of dignity and security, today’s workplace is one of unease and insecurity.” (Baker, 2017) That was 2017. What level of unease and insecurity is felt today in the workplace? The pandemic sent us into isolation for the better part of two years, and while we were there we witnessed seismic reminders of societal division (George Floyd, BLM, Donald Trump, Every Child Matters, and on and on). What atmosphere will we face as we pour back into offices, campuses, schools, restaurants, local retailers and services?
There is a brilliant article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review entitled, “Dignity is the Bedrock for Workplace Belonging”, which actually positions dignity as the goal, even over diversity. In arguing this stance, and why the common diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) approach can inadvertently set back the dial on dignity, Aida Mariam Davis writes:
DEI has been woefully insufficient in addressing the individual and institutional challenges in workplaces—particularly assaults to personal dignity. Efforts done in the name of DEI can reinforce patterns of tokenism, assimilation, and disrespect that oppress Black and Indigenous employees and leave all employees without the proper tools to dismantle discriminatory organizational and practices. (Davis, 2021)
But Ms. Davis is just getting started. Read the entire article when you have a chance.
While Davis goes deep into how the modern day workplace still incubates environments for “dignity violations” particularly to toward the already marginalized members of society, I’d go wider to suggest that we all suffer acts of indignity from time to time, and – surprise – dispense it periodically as well.
To take nothing away from the gravity of the unrelenting social disease of discrimination, I suggest we all look at ourselves in the mirror every morning before heading back out into the world (not just the work force) and think about the self-worth people deserve to feel, and how we effect that with every word, gesture, action we direct toward them. Your character competency is calling. It needs exercise. Do so with dignity.
Here are three actions from “The Daily Undoing: Being Better at Being Human” to warm you up.
Love: Gandhi said “You yourself, as much as anybody in the universe, deserve your love and affection.” The strength of your character begins with how you feel about yourself.
Build: Your genuine praise uplifts another human, while making you more human as well. Seek out and praise someone deserving of recognition.
Walk: Strong character means standing up for what’s right, which often puts you in the minority. Be prepared to walk alone.
All for now. Best wishes in being better.
Baker, T. (2017, August 10). Why dignity in the workplace is so important. Retrieved from HRM Online: https://www.hrmonline.com.au/performance/dignity-workplace-important/
Davis, A. M. (2021, April 26). Dignity Is the Bedrock for Workplace Belonging. Retrieved from Stanford Social Innovation Review: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/dignity_is_the_bedrock_for_workplace_belonging#