Dignity vs. Respect

A few months ago - I had the privledge of speaking with Donna Hicks about Dignity.  As a Humanist dignity is the basis of my philosophy and how I chose to relate to other people. However, I do admit - I use the term respect when what I actually mean - is dignity.

I have been working on changing how I speak about dignity - making sure I correct myself so that I can be more clear.

What follows are my notes from my conversation with Donna on this subject - I hope you find it helpful. And if you want to view the video - here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mZGoaIUBx4&t=5s

Dignity is difference from respect. You have the right to be treated with dignity. Respect is earned.

How to actually do dignity in an organization? 

  • It has to be done at a systemic level. Leadership team – would create system policy that wasn’t about interpersonal relationship – policies that were filled with indignity.
  • You can work to create a culture of dignity. Provide training on it. Make everyone in the organization conversant. Start with Exec leadership first.  Then train everyone else. 
  • You can give and take a dignity pledge.

Based on science and behavioral motivations. Evolution psychology – why we behave the way we behave is because there is an inherent tension between our desire to protect ourselves and our inborn desire to be connected with others.

To a certain extent - we have to unlearn our instinctual responses – primal response override. This is NOT easy to do.

How do you actually do it as an individual? 

How is our dignity violated most?  80% said – safety was the biggest violation.  Not physical – psychological safety. We don’t feel safe to speak up when something bad happens.

It is career suicide to speak up.  So how do we develop feedback skills for people – and processes that protect this? 

How to give feedback effectively? It doesn’t have to be negative.  Can be a positive learning experience instead.  We also need to learn how to receive feedback without being defensive.

Question: How can solutions be implemented from the bottom up? 
Recipients of dignity violations harbor resentment. This can not be fixed within an organization from the bottom up.  Bottom up doesn’t work.   The top of the organization has to be willing to change.  People at the bottom will be targeted but unless the top is able and willing to receive grievances nothing will change.

It is important to remember that: Everyone is a good person – and everyone feels violated – those violations have to be dealt with before progress can be made.

Example: Dignity pledge. Has to be collaboratively created. It’s a check and balance against our worst selves.

Can empowerment help – is it enough? Dignity spells out clearly what it looks like to have your dignity honored and/or violated. It’s very clear picture of what the behaviors look like.  Dignity is an umbrella concept – empowerment is one symptom or way people’s dignity is violated.

What are most common way dignity is violated.
                Every day indignities: Safety – 80% 
People get really upset when they feel they are treated unfairly. One group is favored over another. Identity – gender issues. Always gender issues. Gender inequity. Always.
Failure to be understood.  Misunderstandings.   – Solution – give people the benefit of the doubt. Acknowledge the violation.  -

How does an organization deal with dignity violations?
                Role play acknowledgement exercise.
                Requires skill building and practice.
Dignity Dialogues – need to have a process – safe place to discuss violations – reminds me of the school safe places or rather - de-escalation spaces. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxC_Q8zE0SU 

Restorative justice 

The goal is not to shame the violator. The goal is to reconnect the relationship.

Individual differences in dignity? Kids need their dignity mirrored to them. Adults need care taking too. It’s as important as physical well being. Physical and psychological safety.
                Compassion – sometimes violators is because – their own dignity was violated.

 Violations may occur because people are not be equal in status. But we are all equal in dignity. People in power have more responsibility to recognize dignity.  Leading with dignity is enormous.

Personal practice
  1. As an individual human being – how can we improve our skills.  Recognize our own dignity – we have inherent value and worth.  Working with Desmund Tutu.  No one can rob us of dignity.  You get through being treated like crap – if you keep reminding yourself of your own dignity.
  2. Recognizing our ignorance. We have neglected it. Make a commitment to learn this.  If we don’t have these skills – it’s hard to help others.
  3. Recognizing the dignity of others. Our worth is the same as others.   Extending ourselves into something greater than ourselves. We need humility about our self-importance to make space for other’s dignity.
With businesses - our first concern cannot be about increasing share value – human dignity is a core concern – we need to make it primary.

Research shows- when people focus on dignity – productivity increases – better for business.

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