On the nature of dignitary harm — and its revolutionary potential

What does a dignity violation feel like?

In her excellent book Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict (2011), Dr. Donna Hicks captures the essence of what violationa of personal dignity do to us (pp.19-20):

We feel injuries to our dignity at the core of our being. They are a threat to the very existence of who we are. Worse, the perpetrators get away with harming us. And the injuries usually go unattended.

There is no 911 call for when we feel that we have been humiliated, excluded, dismissed, treated unfairly, or belittled. Neuroscientists have found that a psychological injury such as being excluded stimulates the same part of the brain as a physical wound. . . .

. . . What exactly gets injured? Our dignity. The painful effects of the wounds to our dignity are not imaginary. They linger, often accumulating, one on top of the other, until one day we erupt in a rage or sink into depression, or we quit our job, get a divorce, or foment a revolution.

Wait a minute…foment a revolution?!

Someone struggling with a dignity violation might easily miss the last phrase of the passage, but it’s actually a prime avenue toward positive change.

Fomenting a revolution to embrace human dignity sounds like a pretty darn good idea, so long as it is done peacefully and, well, with dignity. (In other words, we don’t want heads to roll literally.) It sure beats turning our anger outward or our pain inward.

And if we’re talking about revolutionary energies, then let’s make sure it applies to the workplace. If human dignity became the baseline of our interactions at work, then how would that transform our organizations? Imagine how much happier, healthier, and more productive we would be!


Related post

Donna Hicks: Demand dignity, earn respect (2013)

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