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Published by: Yale University Press
Release Date: September 6, 2011
Pages: 240
ISBN13: 978-0300163926


The desire for dignity is universal and powerful. It is a motivating force behind all human interaction—in families, in communities, in the business world, and in relationships at the international level. When dignity is violated, the response is likely to involve aggression, even violence, hatred, and vengeance. On the other hand, when people treat one another with dignity, they become more connected and are able to create more meaningful relationships. Surprisingly, most people have little understanding of dignity, observes Donna Hicks in this important book. She examines the reasons for this gap and offers a new set of strategies for becoming aware of dignity’s vital role in our lives and learning to put dignity into practice in everyday life.

Drawing on her extensive experience in international conflict resolution and on insights from evolutionary biology, psychology, and neuroscience, Hicks explains what the elements of dignity are, how to recognize dignity violations, how to respond when we are not treated with dignity, how dignity can restore a broken relationship, why leaders must understand the concept of dignity, and more. Hicks shows that by choosing dignity as a way of life, we open the way to greater peace within ourselves and to a safer and more humane world for all.


“This book is a must read for those who want to experience peace in their everyday lives and peace in the world around them. Without an understanding of dignity, there is no hope for such change. If you want to find the weak links in a democracy, look for where people are suffering. You will most likely see a variety of violations.  If you want peace, be sure everyone’s dignity is intact.”
 — Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“No single factor is more critical, yet more neglected, in the successful resolution of conflicts than basic human dignity. In this insightful, wise, and practical book, illustrated by powerful examples, Donna Hicks explains why dignity is so important and what we can do about it. Highly recommended!”
— William Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes and author of The Third Side

“Original, soundly grounded in scholarship, and extremely important and timely!”
— Evelin Lindner, Founding President, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies

“This book offers readers insightful observations, vivid illustrations, and practical strategies for anyone who wants to live a life that upholds and promotes the dignity of all people.”
— Linda M. Hartling, Director, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies

“With lucid and persuasive scholarship, Donna Hicks discusses a topic relevant for everyone: the desire to be treated well. Dignity is a must-read.”
—G. A. Bradshaw, The Kerulos Center and author of Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity


My attention was drawn to the concept of dignity long before I had words to describe it.  As a little girl, when I saw people mistreat others; when I saw myself engaged in hurtful fights with my sisters, there was a part of me that wondered, “Can’t we do better?” Kids have an uncanny sense of how to honor dignity; that is, until they have experienced enough indignities themselves that they forget.  We have an inborn desire to connect with others, but if we experience enough abuse and neglect, that desire turns into fear, and we withdraw from the very thing we want the most:  loving relationships where we feel seen, heard, acknowledged, understood, and treated as if we mattered.

It took more than half my adult life to figure out a way to talk about this yearning that we all have to want to be treated well.  It’s important to us because we also want to live our lives in relationship with others in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves, feel good about others, and to be at peace with the world around us. It took nearly twenty years of working as an international conflict resolution specialist to crystallize my thinking about what dignity is, why it matters to us, and how we can use it to build healthy relationships with one another and to restore those that have broken under the strain of conflict.

I do not claim the moral high ground when it comes to living a dignified life.  I have good days and bad days.  When the pressure is great, I still find myself succumbing to my self-preservation instincts and want nothing more than to get even with the person who has violated me.  The temptation is there and always will be.  I can say that I aspire to live out the principles I have developed in the dignity model, because the work is never done.

There are powerful external forces as well as the unhealed forces within us that leave us vulnerable to violating our own and the dignity of others.  After all, we humans are an evolving species, which means there will always be a greater consciousness for us to achieve; more to learn about ourselves and our developing humanity.  Understanding that we are a species in process gives me confidence that I was on the right track when I was six when I asked myself the question: “Can’t we do better?”   At sixty I know the answer:  We can and we’ll do it with dignity.

Donna's TEDx Talk