Workshopping human dignity

Day 1 participants, HumanDHS workshop, Dec. 2014 (Photo: Anna Strout)

HumanDHS workshop, December 2014 (Photo: Anna Strout)

It’s not often that one can attend an academic/professional gathering that includes separate sessions on improvisational expression and the distinctions between shame and humiliation, but that’s one of the compelling qualities about the annual Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict, held in December by the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) network and hosted by Columbia University in New York City.

HumanDHS, as I’ve written before, is an international assemblage of educators, practitioners, activists, and students devoted to advancing human dignity. I’ve been devoting this week’s posts to the workshop held last Thursday and Friday. I’ve become a regular participant, and for various reasons, this year’s offerings really struck a chord with me.

Open “dignilogues”

Among the highlights for me were the open “dignilogues,” participant-driven breakout sessions on topics generated by the group. The two I participated in could not have been more different, and both were immensely rewarding.

On Thursday I joined a session on improvisation, led by music educator and performing artist Christine de Michele. I must admit that I wasn’t quite sure what Christine meant when she proposed this topic, but it sounded intriguing enough to give it a try. For the next hour or so, our small group jumped right in with improvisational exercises, mixing sounds, music, movements, storytelling, and drawing. It’s hard for me to describe in words just how freeing and “un-conference like” this was, but suffice it to say that it was a fun, creative, and energizing experience.

On Friday I joined a session devoted to exploring the differences between shame and humiliation in our society. It was an earnest, heartfelt exchange, mixing theoretical ideas with personal experiences. Although it wasn’t required that the group reach a consensus on such complex matters, it’s fair to say that many of us agreed that while the experience of shame can, at times, lead to personal growth, the experience of humiliation is more often a diminishing one.

Dignity at work

One of my contributions to this year’s workshop was a Thursday evening talk on advancing dignity at work. It gave me a chance to share many topics that I’ve raised here on this blog, such as workplace bullying, the low-wage economy, and the ravages of globalization. I tied together these topics under the overall rubric of worker dignity.

I then asked participants to consider our respective roles in promoting worker dignity. At the very least, I suggested, we can do our best to practice the Golden Rule at work, treating others as we would have them treat us. That’s not always easy, but it’s an especially good starting place.


Related post

For a closer look at the work of HumanDHS, here’s a post I wrote earlier this fall, “Creating an intellectual framework for human dignity.”

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One response

  1. In California, a Milestone in Being Treated with Respect and Dignity in the Workplace.

    With AB 2053 (Gonzales), “Mandatory Supervisor Training on Harassment and Discrimination must now include education on workplace bullying,” we have a significant seismic shift in labor relations public policy. This is a big evolutionary step in creating a public ethos towards equality of employee protections irregardless of whether one is, or is not, a member of an ethnic or sexual or religious class protected from workplace discrimination or sexual harassment.

    Workplace bullying and abusive behavior occurs 4 times that of Title 7 protected class illegal discrimination or sexual harassment. And research has shown it is far more damaging to its victims because they essentially have no legal recourse.

    Now, with AB 2053, we have a law that says that supervisors and management in entities with more than 50 employees must receive education and training about workplace bullying and abusive behavior. They must be made aware of it, and hopefully it will have an impact on their consciences. The onus is on management to understand abusive workplace behavior and eliminate it from their workplace.

    With this new enlightenment comes a focus on the health and well being of the employee and their rights to be free of abusive management, supervisor, or co-worker behavior. It means that there is essentially a public policy, a kind of communitarian ethos, encouraging listening to, protecting, and compensating victims of abusive behavior in the workplace. It is now OK to place more emphasis on compassion and empathy for the employee who suffers from malice and abuse of power, rather than side with the power abusers just because they have power-over.

    This is just a beginning in the continuing fight for dignity and respect for everyone in the workplace. It’s an opportunity for further building on legislative efforts that provide a definite cause of action and right for employees’ bullying issues to be heard and fairly judged.

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