Building a global society that embraces human dignity

I’ve just had the privilege of participating in the annual workshop of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) Network, a global gathering of scholars and practitioners devoted to advancing dignity and ending humiliation in our society. The workshop was held on Thursday and Friday at Teachers College of Columbia University.

Here’s how HumanDHS describes its mission:

We are a global transdisciplinary network and fellowship of concerned academics and practitioners. We wish to stimulate systemic change, globally and locally, to open space for dignity and mutual respect and esteem to take root and grow, thus ending humiliating practices and breaking cycles of humiliation throughout the world.

We suggest that a frame of cooperation and shared humility is necessary – not a mindset of humiliation – if we wish to build a better world, a world of equal dignity for all.

It’s not easy for me to capture to breadth and depth of this gathering. In programmatic terms, it consists of several roundtable discussions, dialogue sessions, and lectures (plus a dash of live musical entertainment) — in other words, on the surface it may appear to be just another conference. But what happens during that time is very special, a sharing of experiences, research, ideas, and actions ranging from trauma and healing in Romania to cultural issues implicated by English language instruction in Zanzibar. You can look at the overall agenda here.


The founding president of HumanDHS is Dr. Evelin Lindner, a physician, psychologist, and self-styled global citizen whose life mission is rooted in the displacement of her family during the ravages of the First and Second World Wars. Evelin speaks in visionary terms of what our society can become, and she’s ever conscious of how pain and trauma call upon us to embrace those ideals.

The director of HumanDHS is Dr. Linda Hartling, a psychologist and leading authority on relational-cultural theory who worked with renowned psychiatrist Jean Baker Miller. Linda’s work in identifying different types of workplace cultures is one of the most valuable framing concepts I’ve encountered in trying to grasp variations in organizational life.

Evelin and Linda would be quick to emphasize that HumanDHS is a large assemblage of people dedicated to both scholarship and action. Ideas, research, and theory are deeply respected. Concrete actions to advance positive individual and social change are celebrated.

World Dignity University

This year’s workshop also served as a sort of brainstorming session about a new HumanDHS initiative, the World Dignity University, described as follows:

The education branch of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) aims to increase our understanding of the negative consequences of humiliation and generate support of alternative approaches that promote human dignity. We have therefore begun in 2010 to form a World Dignity University.

We wish to disseminate the research findings related to dignity (with humiliation as its violation) to a wide variety of audiences. Thereby we wish to contribute to the capacity of people to build peaceful societies and be mindful of how humiliation may disrupt the social fabric and how social cohesion may be sustained by preventing humiliation from occurring.

Although still in the very early stages of development, World Dignity University will offer educational programs and a university press dedicated to addressing human dignity and humiliation. I’m tremendously excited about its potential. See the video clip above for more of Evelin’s and Linda’s ideas about this initiative.

Personal appreciation

My discovery of HumanDHS several years ago has been a genuine gift, made possible by the welcoming spirit of its pioneering core group. Today I serve on the HumanDHS global advisory board, at this year’s workshop I shared some of my work concerning workplace bullying and the practice of intellectual activism.

In addition, I join with New York Law School professor Michael Perlin — a leading authority on mental health law — in having strong connections to both the HumanDHS Network and the Therapeutic Jurisprudence movement, the latter of which has been a common topic on this blog.

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