Dignity – The Great Equalizer

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This week’s topic is a bit of a departure from the traditional rhetoric of professional development. But it remains within the underpinning of legacy creation which we have been discussing. Let’s consider this notion of dignity.

Nelson Mandela, whom many regard and would agree with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as “our era’s greatest ambassador for human dignity,” described dignity as ‘an inalienable right’. It is the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect. Which means that as created members of one race – the human race – we each have equal weight in dignity.

Whether we accept that fact and treat each other accordingly is a different issue. But it does not negate that by virtue of being human we are innately worthy of honour and respect.

If we pause for a second and be honest with ourselves, this is how we each want to be seen, perceived and treated … As worthy of respect and honour and therefore invaluable. But are we? Certainly not always. And do we proffer the same honour and respect to others?

Imagine how different our world would be if we did. For when we see ourselves and others as worthy of respect and honour, as having value and an advantage, we are empowered to be and bring our best selves to our community.

Therefore let’s live mindful that each of us are created, that each of us are created for a purpose and each of us are created with the attributes to fulfil our unique purpose. Coined another way, we each have dignity, we each have value and a unique advantage to make some contribution as members of humanity.

Combined, these three attributes allow us a healthy perspective of ourselves and of others. They define our confidence and among other things they free us from the myriad fears that can retard or derail us from our focus and drain our energies.

Dignity, value and advantage are also not a gift from other humans to us. We each come pre-packaged with them.

Nelson Mandela got a glimpse of this and that’s why he described human dignity as an inalienable right. Meaning dignity cannot be taken away from you nor be given away by you. The same is true for our innate value and advantage.

So whether someone has weakened in mental health and become illogical, or lost their economic strength and become impoverished, or compromised their fidelity and slid down the social ladder, does not minimize their humanity and therefore their weight in dignity.

Because outside of all the other classifications in which we may rise or fall, our humanity remains unchangeable.  And for that reason even in our most fragile or depraved state of being we remain equally worthy of respect and honour as any other member of humanity.

This must have been the lens through which Nelson Mandela saw his supremacist’s oppressors. In spite of their flaws, they were human. And for that reason he could forgive their atrocities and mobilize a racialized nation towards a journey of forgiveness and healing for reconciliation.

One man’s embrace of the right perspective of dignity inspired a world to rethink the notion of ‘human dignity’, forgiveness and hope. Such was the contribution of Nelson Mandela to our world and his impact continues today within and beyond the shores of South Africa.


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