What does dignity mean to you?
I referenced the Humpty Dumpty New World Dictionary and found the following definition: "A quality of behavior or thought that impels man to live well and for the betterment of the community."
This definitions suggests a scale of acts, from low to high, bad to good, sinful to angelic. It also suggests that there is generally a reason beyond one's own self interest for acting. Namely, to make a better community.
A dignified Brit is often seen by others as a snob because self-interest appears to be his main reason for being. I've tweaked the definition to mean dignity is a quality of act that does not "put down" others, but respects and raises others. It also represents the discipline not to bow to the unsavory lures of Satan, pretty women or greed, but to seek to climb ever upward on a scale of knowledge, dependability, self-awareness, kindness and skill.
Or handsome men, if you are woman.
What is the opposite of dignity? Here are some examples:
- A drunk lying dirty and stinking in the gutter.
- Cheating to win.
- The acts of a liar, thief, murderer or rapist.
- Insulting someone we don't even know.
- Using deceit and manipulation to win an argument rather than information, logic and probabilities.
- Swearing at a charity dinner.
- Throwing trash out the bus window.
- Pissing on the neighbor's wall.
- Playing loud music all night long.
- Allowing your dog to run around dirty, mangy and flea-infested, crapping where the kids play.
- Stealing coral.
- Cutting down logs illegally and causing deadly floods to roar through cities.
- Spitting on the sidewalk.
- Blowing your nose into your shirt.
- Taking your kid from school so he can work.
- Having babies you can't nourish or nurture.
And some cases are perplexing. Is a woman who sells her body for sex undignified? Or is she working diligently at her profession?
How many of us are dignified 100 percent of the time? About 0 percent.
Dignity is not binary, 1 or 0, black or white, and you either have it or not. It is a discipline, a trend line, and it requires effort. That means it is sometimes hard. It means swallowing a swear word or having the character not to cheat to win. It means saying no to quick and illegal ways to get rich. It means the Golden Rule, treating others as we would wish to be treated. It is NOT the easy road.
Ignorance promotes undignified behaviors.
Often ignorance is accidental, a fluke of the fates. If you are the 12th kid born into a family, you aren't likely to receive the dignity-building love, attention and education that other kids receive. You might tend to go around most of your life looking for love in the most undignified ways. Drunk at the tuba table. Beating up others. Lying and cheating. Infidelity.
- Honesty is dignified.
- Admitting a mistake is dignified.
- Sacrifice of self for community is dignified.
- Working for self-improvement is dignified.
Dignified people work at it. They learn manners and taste. They develop self awareness and righteous values.
It is like learning to run a marathon, I suppose. You start with five miles and then build to 26. You start with slow speed and build to fast. You learn the tricks of the trade, when to cruise and rest, when to pump, what to eat and drink. It is a discipline.
Dignity is a discipline.
On a scale of 1 to 100, where 1 is a slob in the gutter and 100 is an angel, I figure I am at about a 68.
Last year, I was a 66.
It is slow. It is arduous. Three steps forward, two back.
It is worth it. The effort is worth it.