Dignify It


Yes.  There is a Global Dignity Day, and I first heard of it in a Jamaican newspaper.  The powerful and speedy 200 meters world champion and Olympic medalist Veronica Campbell Brown first celebrated it last year.  This year, she plans to do more, in Montego Bay.

I am impressed by Ms. Campbell Brown – who unlike some of her male counterparts seems to know the meaning of the word.  “VCB” as she is affectionately known in Jamaica is also offering four scholarships to “young ladies” in Montego Bay high schools, several of which will observe Global Dignity Day on October 20.

Veronica Campbell Brown and a scholarship winner
Veronica Campbell Brown with a scholarship winner from Irwin High School in Montego Bay. Two dignified ladies.

Dignity may not be a fashionable concept these days.  When one regards the antics of pop stars (for whom allowances must be made, I suppose – it’s entertainment), politicians (no allowances made) and “men of religion” – among other so-called adults – it is not the word that springs to one’s lips.  Others, living in squalor, are trying to hold the shreds of what is left of their dignity around their thin shoulders.  Many Jamaican “celebrities” love to make a grand, dignified entrance into the hall of public life, full of self-importance; few manage a dignified exit.  But then… One expects so little of public figures these days.

Dignity
The dignity of history.

What of the “principles” that make up a person of dignity – regardless of his/her status in society?  These are listed – five of them – on the Global Dignity Day website, as follows:

Every human being has a right to lead a dignified life.  And what is a “dignified life” – what are its components?

A dignified life means an opportunity to fulfill one’s potential, which is based on having a human level of health care, education, income and security.  Ah!  OK… Now how many Jamaicans, one wonders, have the benefit of all of the above?  Not more than fifty per cent, I would hazard a guess.  The other half – or perhaps more than half – live undignified lives, like the residents of Trench Town on TV the other night, whose home is literally collapsing around them.

Inner city Kingston
How much dignity is there in this picture?

Dignity means having the freedom to make decisions on one’s life and to be met with respect for this right.  It is clear that these definitions of dignity are all dependent on other human beings.  Can one have dignity without it being bestowed by another?

Dignity should be the basic guiding principle for all actions.  OK, so dignity is indeed a platform – an inner place – that propels us to act in certain ways towards others.

Ultimately, our own dignity is interdependent with the dignity of others.  This is a tricky one.  If another behaves badly, does this mean one has to be extra dignified in return?  If someone spits in your eye, do you smile condescendingly at them?  When does dignity become self-righteousness?

OK.  The Global Dignity Day website tells us that dignity is ethically sound, and at the same time the “smart” thing to practice, because it “pays off.”  How is this achieved if you live in a squatter settlement among many other desperate people, among the stray dogs, mosquitoes and unwanted babies and goats eating plastic bags and trickling sewage?  How does being dignified in such an environment “pay off”?  Am I missing something here?

Global Dignity Logo
This is the logo for Global Dignity Day

Don’t get me wrong.  There is something about this special day that makes sense, even if it is just another way of lobbying for human rights for an increasingly degraded and marginalized global population.  On the verge of its fiftieth anniversary of Independence, Jamaica needs to ponder these issues, and regain its dignity.  It is so much more than beaches festooned with loungers; beauty queens heavy with lip gloss; rum punches; zinc fences; unsmiling youth on street corners.

Jamaica has a heart, but perhaps it is hiding it.  I believe that’s what dignity is about.  Heart.

It’s not cool, maybe.  But the hackneyed, too oft-repeated “One Love” motto could embrace dignity.

One Love
Bob Marley's anthem reduced to pink.

 

I left the room with silent dignity, but caught my feet in the mat.  [George and Weedon Grossmith, Diary of a Nobody]

 

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4 thoughts on “Dignify It

  1. Interesting evaluation of the Dignity Principles.

    Perhaps the interdependent aspect of dignity is the key to understanding the Principles. For example, regarding the first principle – just because someone does not have a humane level of income or security does not mean they can’t live with dignity (as the many dignity stories we have come across illustrate), though that would certainly help. Rather, it diminishes the dignity of those in more prosperous places that others live in such terrible circumstances. That is why, when one person helps another, the dignity of both increases.

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    1. Thank you for your very thoughtful comment, Syed. Yes, I do agree with you – the interdependence is key. I like your analysis very much. Dignity is not something which operates in a vacuum. It is about the relationships between men. When those relationships break down, then so does dignity…and human rights go out of the window at the same time. I appreciate your comment… keep them coming!

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