In what has become a welcomed rite of December, I just spent two days participating in the annual workshop of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) Network, held at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York. The workshop is a global, transdisciplinary gathering of educators, practitioners, and activists devoted to advancing dignity and ending humiliation in our society.
The founding president of HumanDHS is 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. In her remarks to the group, Evelin talked about the need to “embrace the world as our university.” She urged that in the face of powerful political and economic forces that operate to advance the interests of the most privileged, we must “build a new culture of global cohesion, global friendship.”
For me, one of the highlights of the gathering is psychologist Michael Britton‘s annual address, in which he weaves together individual and societal dynamics that either impede or promote the creation of a more decent world. Michael observed that after a century marked by major wars, severe financial crises, and significant inequalities, we are presented with a traumatized world containing an “immense surround of pain and dysfunction.”
The opportunity and challenge before us, he noted, is that we’re “groping toward a kind of world that none of us has experienced,” adding that we must create “learning environments where people sense the emerging future worth working for.”
The array of topics discussed at the workshop runs a global gamut, from conflict in the Middle East, to human rights and incarceration, to — yes — even workplace bullying. Indeed, the theme of bullying came up on several occasions during the gathering, in addition to my short talk on bullying at work. And, in fact, the director of HumanDHS is Linda Hartling, a psychologist and leading authority on relational-cultural theory whose assessment of workplace cultures is one of the most valuable framing concepts I’ve encountered toward understanding organizational life.
If you’d like to get a deeper sense of the rich variety of people and topics present at this conference, please see the extended agenda, here.
I’m going to devote another post or two to this workshop and to the work of HumanDHS, so stay tuned.
As an elaboration of some of the themes in his Friday talk, Michael Britton suggested the documentary film “I Am” (2010), the story of how Hollywood producer Tom Shadyac redirected his life after a severe accident. It’s an entertaining and absorbing film that asks what is wrong with the world and how can we make it better. You can view it here. (In one of those wonderful moments of pure synchronicity, last night one of my dearest friends e-mailed me to say that she watched the film earlier in the day and highly recommended it. I watched it and agree with the kudos!)