The law that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed on Thursday took my breath away (Washington Post). The law is ironically called the “Hope Act”, claiming to help poor families become self-sufficient by prohibiting them from going swimming, seeing movies, among many other things, with their government welfare dollars. Even more ironic is his statement that “It’s about the dignity of work” helping families get the skills they need to be free of state aid. Dignity of work? What about the dignity of the poor families who have already suffered the humiliating circumstances of poverty?
When most public figures and celebrities fall from grace, it is because they are trying to cover something up or to save face in order to preserve their dignity. People are lured by this temptation all the time. But with Brian Williams, we are seeing a different, and I would argue, more complex demonstration of the risk one is willing to take to prove one’s worth in the eyes of others. What motivated him to embellish his experience when he was already well respected with his viewers and colleagues? Has his desire to demonstrate his dignity and worth gone awry?
2014 was a great year for Dignity. My extensive speaking engagements and workshops enabled me to sign on so many new Dignity Agents—people who are committed to raising awareness of the importance of dignity (see declaredignity.com). We enlisted hundreds of people from all over the US; from Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Spain, Turkey, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Palestine, Iran, Bangladesh, Greece, Israel, Ireland, N. Ireland, Monaco and Rwanda. This was just for 2014.
In September 2014, the Cambridge MA based organization, Beyond Conflict, convened a conference in Miami on US/Cuba relations entitled, “Reconciliation and Change: The Importance of Dignity.” The conference was attended by Cuban Americans of all ages as well as policy makers, academics and others interested in the US/Cuba reconciliation.
I heard an interview on CNN with Richard Sherman, the Seattle Seahawk cornerback who broke into a seething rant against San Francisco 49er, Michael Crabtree, after the game last Sunday. It has been reported that is behavior was inconsistent with his public persona—Stanford graduate, A student, thoughtful, and respected player on and off the field. What happened to him that unleashed such rage and contempt?
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about an issue that came up at a talk I gave this week at the Social Work Grand Rounds at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
After presenting my basic ideas about what dignity is (our inherent value and vulnerability) and the Ten Elements of Dignity (acceptance of identity, recognition, acknowledgment, safety, inclusion, fairness, independence, benefit of the doubt, understanding and accountability). I then pointed out that dignity isn’t something that comes and goes—but always stays with us.
The world has bid its final farewell to Nelson Mandela this week. While it’s was a final farewell, his extraordinary life will continue to have an impact on us as we struggle to understand what made him who he was and how he was able to become what most of us can only aspire to. Did something happen to him in prison that enabled him to be so generous with his (what he called) white sisters and brothers of South Africa? How was it that he was able to walk out of prison feeling no resentment, no hostility, no desire for revenge?
In the two years since my book, Dignity: It’s Essential Role in Resolving Conflict was published, I have given many talks on the subject. * Recently, people have asked me what more I have learned about dignity after presenting my ideas all over the world. They often ask, “Is there another book you would like to write?”
No matter what kind of intervention I do, whether in the field of international conflict, the corporate world, education, health care, or in organizations in general, the same insight has emerged: Without leadership that is aware of and capable of handling dignity issues that inevitably arise in relationships, we will continue to see destructive conflict at all levels.
It was pouring down rain on Friday June 7–graduation day for the class of 2013 at Landmark School in Beverly, MA. This was no ordinary graduation, and the rain did not put a damper on the joy that infused everyone in attendance.
It was victory day for nearly 80 students who struggled with learning challenges early in their lives. As many of them reported, they were headed down a slippery slope in public school, where they felt overwhelmed and depressed. They did not respond to traditional teaching methods that were geared toward the average learner. Given their unique ways of processing information, they needed instruction that was designed for their particular learning style. Their parents found Landmark school—a life-saving educational institution that has graduated thousands of such students for more than 40 years. I call it an oasis of dignity.
A remarkable event took place in Tripoli last week–the first of its kind since the liberation of Libya. Co-sponsored by the Italian NGO Ara Pacis and the Libya NGO, Al Mubadara Libya Asalam, a conference was held to launch the Libyan Initiative, a project designed to promote healing and reconciliation in a country that has suffered some of the worst indignities humanity has ever endured.
As a member of the board of Ara Pacis, along with fellow board members Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee, we were invited to address some of the challenges Libya faces in their efforts to put the past to rest and to pave the way for healing and reconciliation.