Monday, February 11, 2013

Affording People a Little Dignity Goes a Long Way

Dignity is defined by the online Bing dictionary as self-respect; a proper sense of pride and self-respect.

I was talking to a friend of mine one day and used the word in our conversation and he commented that this was a word that he had not heard in years. Until he said that, I had not thought about it, but he is right. This word is missing from too many vocabularies in our current world.

I had heard this word many times when I worked in a foundry and our Human Resources Director explained to me many times that dignity is so important to a person’s self- worth and we owe it to one another to treat people in such a way that they are able to maintain their sense of dignity.  As a young supervisor, I listened closely to this timeless lesson. She went on to explain to me that even when we had to terminate an employee, we needed to do it in such a way that that person could walk out the door with his or her dignity intact. Otherwise, we would destroy a person’s sense of self-worth. We as supervisors were not in the business of destroying people.

 Indeed, a good supervisor will do the opposite. A good supervisor will build people up rather than tearing them down. He will champion the causes of employees and encourage them to aspire to excellent performance, and cheer their successes. From time to time, a supervisor may have to take disciplinary action, up and including termination. If termination is not in order, disciplinary action is a golden opportunity for coaching an employee to become more successful and the outcome can be positive. Sometimes, termination is necessary, but can be done in such a way that people are not destroyed in the process.

Outside of the workforce, the lesson is equally relevant. When dealing with neighbors, friends, enemies and even ex-spouses, we need to be gentle with one another. Otherwise, we are adding additional stress to the lives of others in a very difficult, complex world that just doesn’t have any more room for additional stress.

Some years ago, I attended a seminar entitled, “You are not your circumstances”, sponsored by the First United Methodist Church in Brewton, Alabama. I needed that seminar, because I was dealing with very difficult circumstances. I noticed a couple who were fine upstanding people in our community in the audience. I thought to myself, ‘I wonder why they are here; they don’t have any problems.’ I even expressed that to a friend when we were riding to the seminar. She responded, “You know Kathy, I just don’t think that we have any idea what one another is dealing with in their lives.”  Time and experience has taught me that she is right.

Sometimes dignity is all people have left with which to pick up pieces from terrible setbacks and move forward. When we destroy someone’s dignity, we have destroyed the man or woman. When people have lost their self-respect, they feel as if they have nothing left to lose. I don’t want to meet a person on the street who is in that mindset. Someone with nothing left to lose will stop at nothing. Hence we see a killer on the loose after killing three people in Los Angeles: Christopher Dorner.

I do not blame anyone for his actions but him. But I do realize that when someone feels that he has nothing left to lose, he is apt to take radical actions, which is what has occurred in this situation.

Back in Alabama, we had a sayin’: “You can kick a dog only so many times. Eventually, that dog will come back at you and bite you.” That is true. Affording a dog his dignity will prevent that.

It is high time that we as individuals, employers, and officials realize this and act accordingly.


copyright 2013 by Kathy Robbins

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