“Dignity is an internal state of peace that comes with the recognition and acceptance of the value and vulnerability of all living things.”

– Donna Hicks, Dignity: Its’ Essential Role in Resolving Conflict

A police officer kneels on the neck of a black man until he is dead.  There has been a collective punched-in-the-gut visceral reaction to this tragedy.  Our gut communicates shock to the totality of our being even before the language later used to describe our horror has been formed.

Here is some language that might be useful: what we have witnessed via published recordings is the ultimate dignity violation: one human being taking the life of another.  And we vicariously witnessed the proceeding dignity violation: one human being kneeling on the neck of another human being.  And the dignity violation before that: handcuffing an unarmed, unresisting man. 

Horror, outrage, grief and more are normal and healthy responses to the dignity violations committed against the man we now know was named George Floyd.  A beloved father, son, brother and friend.

For the past six years I have been presenting workshops on honoring and upholding human dignity; my first workshop was aimed at helping a local community heal emotional wounds left behind in the wake of a bullying incident at the local high school.  Now, I often couple the subjects of dignity and forgiveness together as I feel they are natural companions in healing the wounds people inflict upon each other. 

I consider the work of Donna Hicks, a dignity researcher and author of Dignity: Its’ Essential Role in Resolving Conflict, to be a great starting point for any discussion on dignity.  To begin with, here are some definitions important to an understanding of dignity:

Dignity is an internal state of peace that comes with the recognition and acceptance of the inherent worth, value and vulnerability of all living things.

A dignity violation is seeking to humiliate, hurt, bully, put-down or in any way harm another and in doing so not accepting or acknowledging another’s inherent right to be vulnerable, make mistakes and learn.

False dignity is seeking to validate who you are in your own eyes or in the eyes of others by violating someone else’s dignity.

Sadly, in the last minutes of George Floyd’s life, his inherent worth was not honored.  What is less obvious to most of us or harder to understand is that in seeking false dignity, the police officer who took George Floyd’s life and those officers who did nothing to intervene violated their own dignity, as well.  When we violate someone else’s dignity, we always violate our own; in seeking to humiliate and hurt others we also – always – hurt ourselves.

Blessings of peace to us all.

 – Elizabeth Lewis