What does dignity mean to you?
It’s not a word or feeling I come across much. I don’t think dignity is talked about much in everyday conversations. Certainly not those I am involved in. When I do hear about it, it is usually in the context of workplace training to combat bullying and harassment. A number of organisations are implementing Dignity and Respect workshops these days.
Recently, however, I experienced the feeling of dignity as a result of an intimate conversation in an important relationship in my life.
I was vulnerable with a loved one about an issue I hold a lot of shame about. I was anxious sharing the information. When I did I was fully accepted by my loved one. I was even praised for my transparency, integrity, authenticity, and vulnerability. My loved one’s acceptance of me gave me a deep sense of gratitude that I have not experienced before. Through this experience I realised the link between dignity and acceptance.
Dignity and acceptance are inextricably linked.
When we accept people for who they are, we give them the precious gift of dignity. When we do not accept others for who they are, we not only refrain from giving them the gift, we may even take (some of) their dignity away. (This is most likely to occur when the receiver has not yet accepted this part of themselves, and so another person’s lack of acceptance only deepens the wound).
In the recent situation I experienced, I was taking dignity away from myself, believing that others would not accept me. This is a wound I have carried since a child. Being an immigrant, I came to Australia with an accent. This was the first thing other kids noticed about me. It was awful being teased for my accent and for not belonging like the other kids.
Nearly 30 years on and I still remember the torments. They seem funny to my adult self now, and yet I carry the scars of what it felt like to be ostracised. This may have curbed my willingness to be vulnerable over the years – for fear of judgment and lack of acceptance. It also may have stunted my ability to truly accept myself in some ways.
When we hide away our secrets, we lose an opportunity to heal. Sometimes we don’t even realise that many others are living with the same secret. Our secrets can be shared to heal both people rather than stay hidden in the shadows, drawing us deeper into imagined darkness. It is through talking about, and sharing our darkness that we experience light.
During my recent experience I realised that I had been unable to accept in myself what my friend could accept in me. This was one of the most liberating moments of my life as I hold this person so dear. Unknown to them, they gave me a deep, profound, heart felt sense of dignity, that I haven’t felt before. So profound it led to self-acceptance.
In Western, first world countries, dignity is most often given freely to the privileged. It is often not until it is taken away that we miss it. I have not, as a result had a rich and real emotional experience of dignity, like this recent one.
It has got me thinking about a previous role of mine. I worked for the Treasury Solicitors office in London 10 years ago. The primary focus of the role was assessing refugee cases on behalf of the Home Office under Article 4 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
This legislation protects human rights. It protects dignity. Now when I link back to my first thoughts about the link between dignity and acceptance I think about all the refugees around the world and the failure of many countries to accept their status as refugees, or even as individuals with a desire for dignity and acceptance. I think about all the messages we are sending these vulnerable people.
If acceptance and dignity mean so much to me, what do they mean to refugees, and human slaves, and others who are being inhumanely treated around the world? And what does it mean to those who don’t fit in, or who are being bullied and harassed in workplaces?
Dignity and acceptance are human rights, not luxuries. When shared in relationships they are empowering, connecting, and inspiring. They change lives.
I commit to ensuring my acceptance of others is clear and forthcoming. My goal is to magnify or enhance the dignity of others that are struggling to feel acceptance and dignity for themselves.
For my acceptance of others may be one of the greatest gifts I can give.
Who can you show your acceptance for today?