Dignity is a word bursting with so much emotion that it packs a social and political wallop. Human dignity. Basic dignity. Since the 18th century brought with it our own age of enlightenment, we have found our way to the notion that there are inalienable and inherent “rights” bestowed on all. Dignity stands among those rights as a demand that we are worthy of ethical, moral and respectful treatment. So far, and for the last almost 300 years or so, we have all managed to agree on these fundamental tenants, with some spectacular failures along the way.
But as with many things, we gild the lily to the point that it is really not so much a lily as an object of gilding. Dignity is so broadly defined that it now demands attention almost in any circumstance that includes we humans. In fact, some extend the thinking to animals, plants and the animate and inanimate environment around us. OK, is it necessarily a bad thing to live a life dedicated to the general respectful treatment of the world around us in whatever form it takes? Probably not.
Still, if dignity, or anything, becomes inure to all things then what does it really mean? If there is dignity in work, can there be dignity in not working? If there is dignity in honesty, can there be dignity in guile? If there is dignity in life, can there be dignity in death? Is there dignity in doing the right thing, quietly and without fanfare? Still, too, is there dignity in doing the right thing publicly for all to see? It is all a bit confusing.
If we progress to a fully dignified place, how do we reconcile our disagreements without being, well, undignified? Perhaps it is best not to dignify that question with an answer.