Dignity is foundational to the concept of peace. In fact, there can be no peace without dignity. Dignity is so important to the concept of peace, that in the United Nations’ milestone document, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the concept of dignity is established as the foundation of all human rights. Article 1 states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
While most people would nod their head in agreement to this idea, few know how to make the concept of dignity actionable. How do we take what we inherently know to be true and act on it consistently in all our personal and professional relationships?
In my last article, I introduced the concept of becoming a Dignity Ambassador in the workplace. I defined dignity as the “inherent value of all living beings.” And I presented the Dignity Model, which includes the 10 Essential Elements of Dignity, developed by Donna Hicks, PhD.
In this article, I will take a deeper dive into the first five essentials of dignity.
The first essential element of dignity is the acceptance of identity. This means that in every interaction, we approach our coworkers as equals, being neither inferior nor superior to ourselves or to any other person. When we truly accept the identity of others, we embrace their freedom to express their authentic selves without fear of being negatively judged, punished, or treated differently. When we truly accept the fullness of the identity of others, we interact with them without prejudice or bias, and we recognize, honor and respect, the ways in which race, religion, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, and disability are at the core of other people’s identities.
We make the acceptance of identity actionable in the workplace by educating ourselves about the lived experiences of people whose race, religion, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, and abilities differ from our own. We seek to understand how our lived experiences inform, and perhaps distort, our understanding of the world. We are intentional about developing emotional intelligence skills, particularly self-awareness, so that we become more aware of our own biases and can confront those biases when they surface. We make a point to understand the identity of others, and we continuously check ourselves to ensure that we are creating inclusive and safe spaces in which all people can thrive.
This leads us to our second and third essentials of dignity — inclusion and safety. Inclusion means making others feel that they belong. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection,Brené Brown defines belonging as, “The innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.” She goes on to explain that, “True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
In order to be truly inclusive, the work environment must focus on creating a culture of belonging — a culture where we join with other people in producing something that makes our workplace place better. This means that our workplaces must be safe. And while it is obvious that physical safety is a requirement for a productive and functioning workplace, what is less obvious is that it must also be psychologically safe. This means that our actions, behaviors, and overall culture must allow everyone to express the fullness of who they are without fear of humiliation or retribution. As Dignity Ambassadors, we create inclusive and safe spaces by always operating from a place of integrity; demonstrating authentic concern for the well-being of our colleagues; affirming our acceptance of the identity of others; ensuring that proper representation of the diversity represented in our communities is also represented in our workplaces and that diverse voices are amplified; and by consistently and genuinely acknowledging and recognizing our colleagues.
This leads us to the fourth and fifth elements of dignity — acknowledgement and recognition. When we acknowledge others, we give them our full attention by listening, hearing, validating, and responding to their concerns, feelings, and experiences. We set aside our technology and commit to being fully present to those with whom we are interacting. Recognition is validating others for their contributions, talent, hard work, and thoughtfulness. We model generosity and praise by showing appreciation and gratitude for the ways each of our colleagues uniquely contribute to our shared work. We make recognition a daily practice and not just a formal gesture that maps back to recognition programs.
When we experience dignity in our relationships at work, we are motivated to contribute at our highest level. We are more resilient to challenges that are presented to us, and we are able to navigate conflict so that the benefits inherent to conflict are experienced by all.
Learn more in my new book, Communicating With Dignity and Curiosity: The Peacemaker’s Handbook for Creating and Sustaining Peace.
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.