On Human Dignity

When I stand in front of you, I am there because I have a right to be. I need no permission and no justification. I am there and so are you.

Which is all you need to see in order to treat me with the dignity I deserve. And I deserve it not because you think so, but because I am there. And so are you.

When you stand in front of me, my only response is to look you in the eye, acknowledge your presence, and treat you with the dignity you deserve. You deserve it because you are human.

Which is all I need to see in order to treat you the way that I, too, have a right to be treated. Because I am human.


I am really, really disturbed. I am scared. I am angry. And so in my own way, I am screaming. Once again, bodies are a topic of discussion in the United States. The women whose bodies these are have been deliberately left out of the conversation. Their agency has been stolen. Their life experiences devalued. And their dignity? Their humanity? Purposely not acknowledged because that would destroy the whole thing.

As a teacher and learner of psychology, I can explain the mechanisms of group cohesion, kinship selection, stereotyping, and self-concept that are at play here.

But as a human, I cannot understand it.


When I was a child, we learned the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated. One year when I was teaching middle school, my students scoffed at my outdated notions of behavior. It was passé, they made quite clear, to only consider myself when deciding how to treat others. The Platinum Rule, I was told, was to treat others the way they want to be treated.

I smiled at the time, enjoying the moment where students are strong enough to stand up to a teacher when they deem it important. But I had a problem with this idea then and I have a problem with it now.

When you don’t think of others as having human dignity, you cannot treat them the way they’d want to be treated because you fail to see them at all.

Of course, the goal is to view every individual as having dignity merely on the basis of being human. But for those who choose not to do that, at least treating another the way you’d want to be treating forces you to recognize that they have dignity because you do. While this differs dramatically from someone’s having dignity because they do, it’s a start and it’s better than indifference.


In a better world, my students would be right. We should treat others the way they want to be treated because they have dignity. Because they are human. Because they are.

I am an educator because I believe in that world. But I am writing this blog post because I am human and I am screaming.

4 thoughts on “On Human Dignity”

  1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. It is so easy, given our cultural parochialism and emotional distance, to forget that such callous affronts on people happen on a daily basis, in a huge range of contexts, in front of our very eyes. In many cases, we are socialised such that we do not even recognise that another(s) worth is being belittled. Don’t be afraid to stop and think, to check ego, to question. And please keep writing…

    Like

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