Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dignity


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.

13 comments:

  1. Your examples on the 'opposites of dignity' make it sound like dignity itself is a direct result of preference - a choice normally taken for granted, maybe because it is difficult to sustain, or, that it's a matter of convenience, or perhaps, it is simply a luxury not everyone can afford.

    I wonder how our politicians would rate themselves using your scale...

    I'm curious as to how you were able to rate yourself. Expect other more dignified readers to ask for justifications.

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    1. Yes, a result of preference, and discipline. Not natural. Education establishes the framework, but mastering emotions is the big achievement.

      Politicians would rate themselves very high. U.S., too.

      I use the artillery method of bracketing the shot. 70 seems too high considering my temperamental inclinations and swearing, and one or two other foibles I shall keep to myself. 66 is too low considering the effort I have made blogging to put my head on my shoulders a little more squarely.

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  2. I know people who are not that academically accomplished but exhibit such the discipline you've mentioned above. Is this an exception to the rule? I figured there are aspects more fundamental than education, like common sense and respect, which for the uneducated, could still spell the chance for a dignified way of life.

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    1. That's true, isn't it. Maybe education is irrelevant, eh? A lot of educated people are not so dignified. Now I have to rethink this.

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  3. A person with dignity commands respect, in the sense that you find yourself respecting the person whether you like it or not and regardless of whether you like the person or not. I don't know what it is but you see and feel it when it's there.

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    1. Yes. It is rather an internal self-confidence they project, I think. And great awareness of others and how it all fits together. My grandmother was the most dignified person I've eve met. She was a teacher, liked to write, had great sense of humor, great empathy, and an indescribable "class".

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    2. yes, class and dignity go together

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  4. The word "class" and "taste" have a very different meaning in the Philippines.

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    1. How so, Attila? I'd be interested in knowing.

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  5. Let me awnser you by a quote from the "Streetwise Philippines" site.
    "Treat your helper as a servant, not a member of the family and now and then get mad at them to keep them keen. Too nice and they will rip you off because they know you won’t do anything about it. Know your place in society and maintain it. You are higher than others but not all. Trying to be nice and friendly to everyone only embarrasses those below you and creates contempt among those above you and shame for those at your level."
    Folow this rule Joe and this way you will be considered as someone who has CLASS.
    Also date light skin "pretty face" mestizas and not dark Filipinas otherwise you will be told as having no TASTE like I was.

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    1. I let my wife handle the help and she pretty much does it as you say. I would tend to be nicer and thus be less classy.

      As for taste, I'll stick with my own, thanks, and pretty much let others think what they will.

      I do find it fascinating that these values are the opposite from what psychologists would consider healthy. Living for others instead of oneself. Taking one's cues from how others react rather than doing what is right for yourself.

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  6. Yes agree it is just so sick to think and act like that. I could never get used to it. I'm a misfit there for sure. Regardless I'm addicted to the Philippines.

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    1. Ha. Well, boring it is not. But I suppose that does not make a good tourist slogan. "Visit the Philippines. Boring it is not!"

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