On Dignity

In his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

The word dignity carries an interesting concept, and it is closely related to the role of a dignitary. A dignitary is supposed to act dignified and treat others as such, but dignity is not strictly earned. Dignity represents the idea that human beings have value simply because they are human beings. We get dignity, not because we have earned it, but because simply because of, as humans, we deserve it.

The concept of dignity also says that other human beings have a place in our lives. When we grant each other dignity as part of our culture, as opposed to choosing to strip it away, we become more human.

In our modern economy, we may act like we have a certain power ver others in some aspect. It is easy to let that perceived power to trick us into treating others poorly by stripping away their dignity. When we do that, we are acting as if the others are not humans and do not deserve the common humanity of dignity.

In our economy where ideas and connection count more than the physical goods, should we act with more dignity? When someone is in a difficult place emotionally or spiritually, we can extend the dignity by sharing some of our emotional or spiritual abundances. If someone asked us for guidance, we still have the insight and knowledge left over. That connection not only does not cost us anything, but it also earns us something. It gets us back to our humanity.

In a social enterprise setting, dignity enables us to treat the poor, not simply for charity, but as customers. When we interact with our customers, we grant the customer the prospect and dignity, the dignity to say yes or no. It is not about a handout, and it is about seeing the other person merely for their potential.

The dignity mindset opens the door to a different kind of economy, and it is one that is based on the understanding that people deserve it. People deserve it because they have the potential to grow and to contribute. They deserve it because they are like us and we would like to deserve it. When we treat people with dignity, it is a way of treating ourselves with dignity because it is only humans.

If we are going to treat others as customers, that requires us to develop empathy. Practical empathy is realizing that this person I am seeking to serve, she has beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, just like I do. They want to feel respected, appreciated, and competent, just like we do. The big idea about empathy is that this person may not want what I want. They may not need what I need. They may not believe what I believe, and they may not know what I know. That is okay.

Before we go to someone with an offer of something, we must begin by offering them the dignity to make a choice or even to say no. Because once we give people dignity, we have cast ourselves as members of a culture, as a community, and as people who care enough to say I see you. Dignity is what makes us human.