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What Is the Real Meaning of Dignity?

Few people realize its extraordinary impact on our lives.

At about the same time that I realized the powerful role dignity played in resolving conflict, I also became aware of something else. Regardless of where in the world my work takes me, few people understand the true meaning of dignity, and even fewer realize the extraordinary impact it has on our lives and relationships.

That’s not to say that people don’t react when I use the word “dignity.” There is always an immediate recognition of the word and its importance, but when I ask people to define it, or tell me what it looks like to have their dignity honored, the conversation falters.

The most common response people offer is that dignity is about respect. To the contrary, dignity is not the same as respect. Dignity is our inherent value and worth as human beings; everyone is born with it. Respect, on the other hand, is earned through one’s actions.

The general lack of awareness about all matters relating to dignity (including my own) inspired me to learn more, write my book, and speak professionally to help organizations, businesses, and associations build a culture of dignity. I changed the way I helped people resolve their conflicts by starting a dialogue with a “Dignity 101” seminar. Before diving into any conflict, I would sit with both sides and teach them lessons in dignity. When people truly understood what they were discussing, it shattered limits on healing their emotional wounds.

After people learn about dignity, a remarkable thing happens. Everyone recognizes that we all have a deep, human desire to be treated as something of value.

Our shared desire for dignity transcends all of our differences, putting our common human identity above all else. While our uniqueness is important, history has shown us that if we don’t take the next step toward recognizing our shared identity, conflicts in our workplace, our personal lives, and between nations will continue to abound.

The glue that holds all of our relationships together is the mutual recognition of the desire to be seen, heard, listened to, and treated fairly; to be recognized, understood, and to feel safe in the world. When our identity is accepted and we feel included, we are granted a sense of freedom and independence and a life filled with hope and possibility. And when are given an apology when someone does us harm, we recognize that even when we fall short of being our best selves, there is always a way to reconnect. “I’m sorry” are two of the most powerful words anyone can utter.

Dignity has the potential to change the world, but only if people like you help to spread its profound message. Sign the Declaration of Dignity! Take time every day to remind yourself and those around you the truth about how valuable we all are. In fact, we are born invaluable, priceless, and irreplaceable. Simultaneously, never lose sight of your inherent vulnerability. We all know the gut feeling that results from being mistreated or neglected – it’s up to you to honor other people's dignity. In the process, you’ll strengthen your own.

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