Digging deep into the meaning of dignity and humiliation


Today I’m going to invite readers to do some heavier reading about the nature of human dignity and humiliation, two concepts that relate closely to some of the workplace issues often discussed here. As some of you know, I’ve been closely involved with a global network of scholars, activists, practitioners, and students called Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS), a non-profit organization that describes itself this way:

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

The founding president of HumanDHS is Evelin Lindner, a physician, psychologist, prolific author, and self-styled global citizen. The director of HumanDHS is Linda Hartling, a psychologist and leading authority on relational-cultural theory. I am affiliated with HumanDHS as a member of its Global Advisory Board, and this has become one of my most treasured connections.

The HumanDHS website is more of a treasure trove to be discovered than a quick browse to be skimmed, and among the content-rich locations is its Online Publications page, which will lead you to a lot of freely downloadable writings, videos, and book descriptions by core HumanDHS members. There’s no way I can do these materials justice in a short blog post, but if you want a deeper look at HumanDHS’s work, here are three monographs that I happily recommend, with short synopses drawn from the respective papers and my brief notes of explanation. I invite you to spend some time with these writings and ponder how the workplace and employment issues discussed on this blog relate to dignity and humiliation in society generally.

Evelin Lindner, The Need for a New World (2008) (44 pages)

We live in times of crisis. This paper is a conceptual paper, aiming at exposing the core patterns that can help us build a new world. It views the required changes against the backdrop of a larger geo-historical context. . . . And this change must not be left to a few elites, but needs to be driven by as many of the world’s citizens as possible. This paper aims at contributing to creating a new vision for the future, together with nurturing global leaders who can carry it forward, and not just a few leaders, but many. It aims at outlining what kind of global system we need that would not just address crises in an ad-hoc fashion, but prevent them – at least the human- made ones – from occurring in the future.

[DY note: This is the first of Evelin’s voluminous body of work that I spent significant time with, and it was well worth the effort.]

Linda M. Hartling, Evelin G. Lindner, Michael Britton, and Ulrich Spalthoff, Beyond Humiliation: Toward Learning That Dignifies the Lives of All People (2013) (15 pages)

Despite efforts by the brightest minds and the most prestigious institutions, we continue to struggle to identify the root causes of violence, war, genocide, and terrorism. Does poverty foment violence? Does competition for scarce resources trigger atrocities? Do religious, political, or cultural differences drive destructive acts of terrorism? Or, are human beings inherently aggressive? A growing body of research suggests that the dynamics of humiliation may be a common denominator, a missing link in our search for root causes of violence (Lindner, 2006, 2009, 2010). How is it possible that our learning institutions have largely overlooked this phenomenon until recently?

[DY note: This is an excellent introduction to the rationale behind and work of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network, including its programs, Dignity Press, and World Dignity University initiative.]

Linda Hartling & Elizabeth Sparks, Relational-Cultural Practice: Working in a Nonrelational World (2002) (13 pages)

While more and more clinicians are practicing a relational-cultural approach to therapy, many work in settings that continue to reinforce the normative values of separation and disconnection. Consequently, practitioners face the challenges of helping clients heal and grow-through-connection while navigating work settings that are all too often professionally disempowering, disconnecting, and isolating, i.e., “cultures of disconnection.” This paper begins a conversation about the complexities of practicing Relational-Cultural Theory in nonrelational work situations and explores new possibilities for creating movement and change in these settings.

[DY note: I have referenced this paper many times on this blog. It provides a simple, yet brilliantly insightful classification of organizational cultures that I invoke frequently in talks about workplace bullying and aggression.]


3 responses

  1. David,
    I love your continuing to share this marvelous resource. My response today is to go ahead with a little self-talk:

    I believe in myself and I am proud of the way I acted in all my work situations. My behavior was to emphasize the dignity of being an employee and to expose those who were prone to the humiliation of others. One way to really humiliate others is to, when thinking about someone’s behavior, indulge in the Fundamental Attribution Error—shaming and blaming the person, when the problem is really with the situation.

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