If you follow my work and writing, you have heard me say many times, Peace is human security and the ability to live a life of dignity that is free of fear. Human security means that we consistently experience a fulfillment of our basic human needs such as: our need to have our identity acknowledged and honored; our need for participation and recognition; as well as physical, emotional, and psychological security. Human needs also include our need for belonging, love, self-esteem, and personal fulfillment.

 What about dignity? What is necessary for us to experience a life of dignity, and how might each of us become ambassadors of dignity — honoring and preserving the inherent value of every person we encounter in our workplaces, communities, and homes? 

Live a Life of Dignity

If we want to live a life of dignity, the first question we have to ask ourselves is: What is dignity? In her book, Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict, international peace-building training and facilitator Donna Hicks, PhD defines dignity as, “Dignity is an internal state of peace that comes with the recognition and acceptance of the value and vulnerability of all living things.” Dignity is the inherent value of all living beings bestowed upon each of us at birth. Dignity is not something separate from us, it is inherent to us. Dignity is not something that can be taken from us; however, it is something that can be violated within us.

Dignity is so intricately woven into the psyche of our humanity that our brain is incapable of recognizing the difference between the psychological threat that occurs when our dignity is violated and the physical threat that occurs when our physical body experiences a violation. 

Think of a time in which you felt humiliated. Humiliation often occurs when we feel as though our identity or worth has been threatened. In the moment of humiliation, we often experience a rush of adrenaline, a pounding of the heart, and an instinctual desire to physically remove ourselves from the person(s) who played a role in the experience of humiliation. Now think of a time in which you felt physically unsafe — imagine walking through a parking garage late at night and you witness an armed robbery. You would likely experience a rush of adrenaline, a pounding of your heart, and instinctual desire to physically remove yourself from the parking garage as quickly as possible. Another possibility is that both situations might cause you to strike out in defense as opposed to fleeing the scene. Violations of dignity and violations of physical safety are experienced the same way: we shift into fight, flight, or freeze mode. In other words, we immediately seek self-preservation. 

Knowing how important dignity is to our ability to be fully present and engaged in our work and how viscerally a violation of dignity is experienced by the brain, it only makes sense that we gain a deep understanding of dignity, what it entails, and how we can both embrace and protect the dignity of others, as well as honor and advocate for our own dignity. 

Donna Hicks has developed what she refers to as the Dignity Model, in which she presents the 10 Essential Elements of Dignity. These elements are presented in her book, and I have shared them below. Familiarize yourself with them. Think about what each element means to you. I invite you to share in the comment section your own experiences with each element as well as ideas for ways we can embrace and honor these elements in each other. 

I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the dignity model, as well as your own experiences of having your dignity honored. When you experience dignity in the workplace, how does this motivate or inspire you to give back to your workplace community? When you have experienced a dignity violation, how does this change the way you experience your workplace community? I look forward to your comments! 

In Part 2 and Part 3 of this series, we will dive deeper into each element and consider ways we can become Dignity Ambassadors in our workplaces. 

Robyn Short is a mediator with expertise in transformative mediation and restorative justice models for dispute resolution. Whether in a corporate, nonprofit, academic or home environment, Robyn assists parties in discovering the root causes of their conflicts, so they may transform their relationships and create new and productive paths forward individually and as teams. Robyn helps organizations through mediation, facilitation, onsite conflict training seminars, leadership training and dialogue circles. Learn more at www.RobynShort.com.