Essay: It’s About Dignity, Stupid!

May 11, 2018

Originally published in Independent Voter News

Debilyn Molineaux, Independent Voter News

First, let me apologize. I don’t really think you are stupid. I was competing for your attention with an oxymoron. And also to demonstrate how easy it is to get attention by using denigrating language.

Something titled “Dignity Is the Answer” would not interest as many people. Yet I know the world would be improved if dignity were our basis for living. When dignity is present, all things are possible.

Dignityis the right of a person to be valued and respected for their own sake, and to be treated ethically. It is of significance in morality, ethics, law and politics as an extension of the Enlightenment-era concepts of inherent, inalienable rights. (Wikipedia)

In other words, we want to be respected and treated fairly.

So why is it so hard? What is it about us that defaults to competing for dominance — instead of honoring our humanity?

Dominance is primitive and instinctual. Dignity is a conscious choice. Dignity requires a ruthless commitment to a belief in our shared humanity — where we can all be our best selves.

Think about a conflict you are having, right now. Maybe it’s with a family member or co-worker.

Maybe you are looking for a place to live and the rents are outrageous. Maybe your relationship is on the rocks due to ongoing disagreements. Perhaps you are denigrating another person online or are being disrespected by a person in authority.

Sit in the conflict for a minute. Just one.

What graceful offer of dignity can you make in this situation? Do you feel pride in shared dignity? Tweet others the way you want to be tweeted.

When I was unemployed during the Great Recession, I found the unemployment system in California lacked dignity. On forms and in the rare instances I was able to talk with a real human being, the questions posed assumed I was a deadbeat taking advantage of the unemployment system.

This was an insurance policy that I had paid for — and the state administered my benefits.

Yet there was an underlying lack of dignity for the people who used their unemployment insurance — and also for the people who administered the benefits. I’ve experienced this in other big systems like healthcare, banking, housing, car buying and such. When it happens to me, I want to cry. Or rage. Or both.

Where is your humanity not recognized in our society? Some possibilities may include:

  • Insurance companies
  • Social Services
  • Doctors
  • Law Enforcement
  • DMV
  • Customers or clients
  • IRS
  • Retail stores / restaurants
  • School

From Somebodies and Nobodies:

When the power inherent in a position of authority is used to fortify that position, the institution’s purpose is subverted. Behaviors are not aligned with the institution’s professed goals; rather they are skewed to preserve the rank, power, salaries, and security of rank-holders. (Robert W. Fuller)

What is the institution’s purpose in the above list? And what is the subversion? Sometimes it’s a profit motive. Sometimes is a power-trip. And sometimes, we have made an error and are shielding ourselves from responsibility. All of these subversions disallow integrity to fulfill our purpose. Dignity is missing — integrity is compromised.

Dignity is the new frontier.

Dignity is an inherent human right.

Universal dignity is the societal change being called forth.

Since the founding of our country, every major progression and societal change has required action from three groups, working independently but concurrently with each other. The same is happening now. These three groups for change are:

  1. The insiders who try to reform the system from within — those public officials who improve systems and services, recognizing the service in public service. This is especially visible at local levels.
  2. The outsiders who commit to nonviolent means and call for change, coalition building, philanthropists and foundations, relationship strengthening and intellectual foundation building. (Think good government groups, conflict resolution groups, increased civic engagement groups.)
  3. The outsiders who are willing to protest to make a political statement (think Black Lives Matter, Occupy, Code Pink), commit acts of vandalism (think Greenpeace), and physically resist authority (think disabled activists in Congress or Antifa).

All three of these groups are challenging our status quo of the current society, which is self-reinforcing and supported by the inertia of people who aren’t yet paying attention. The protectors of the status quo may reduce their resistance if offered dignity in a new system. Shame and blame increases resistance. Dignity lessens it.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Our country’s founding was brilliant because we espoused dignity for everyone. It was flawed because we allowed slavery to continue. We prioritized economic pragmatism and property rights over human rights. This hypocrisy remains today.

Our experiment in self-governance, so carefully composed with checks and balances, is at risk because we have not been true to our ideals and principles, prioritizing dignity for all. It’s time to make a new decision.

It’s about dignity, my beloved fellow humans.

Photo Credit: Lucy Brown /