Embracing human dignity locally and globally: A brief report on the HumanDHS workshop

One of the inspiring, energizing events of my year is the annual Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict sponsored by Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS), a global, multidisciplinary network of scholars, activists, practitioners, and students dedicated to advancing human dignity and reducing the experience of humiliation. This year’s workshop was held on Thursday and Friday at Columbia University Teachers College in Manhattan.

Yup, there were group photos, some music and singing, and a big hand-holding circle at the end that, from a distance, could’ve caused someone to confuse this for a “feel good” gathering. But make no mistake, much of our two days together covered challenging, difficult subjects, such as:

  • A report on a 2015 HumanDHS conference in Rwanda,  (Go here for a 20-page summary of that conference.)
  • A dialogue about the meaning and challenge of forgiveness even in the face of terrible human rights abuses.
  • Current and former law enforcement officers discussing organizational cultures within police departments and the intersection of race and policing in the U.S.
  • A dialogue about “shamed-based” rules in dysfunctional families. (I’ll have more to say about that in a future post.)

At times people had disagreements, sometimes earnestly so. Nevertheless, participants at this workshop jointly aspire to create an atmosphere of mutual respect, while acknowledging and validating deeply held beliefs and strong emotions. I believe that we largely succeeded.

Framing the big picture

One of the highlights of this workshop for me is the annual Don Klein Memorial Lecture, presented by psychologist Michael Britton. Michael has a unique gift for synthesizing the big picture challenges we face as a global society, using a psychological lens. His talk this year was built on the theme of dreams made, destroyed, and recovered.

Humiliation, he said, “is the burial ground of dreams.” We live in a world filled with too much brutality, which he defined as “relating unchecked by empathy.” Michael singled out the professional classes for their emphasis on “wealth, influence, expertise, and esteem,” embracing “markets and money” while “using law to subdue resistance.”

Michael stated that our response should include “creative thinking and moral imagination to reorganize institutionally as a generous world.” Achieving “empathic realization” can spur “modesty, humility, and community.” We need to nurture “life-affirming dreams” embracing dignity as a counter to the current dominant culture.

(This summary hardly gives justice to the beautiful flow of Michael’s talk. I hope to be able to post a video of it later.)

Sharing stories and thanks

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of sharing stories and narratives that facilitate social and individual change. I used one of my segments to share a particularly egregious case of workplace bullying, adding how it illustrates the importance of storytelling (1) to impress upon others the human impact of mistreatment and abuse; and (2) to remind ourselves about the meaning of what we do in the face of frustration, weariness, and temporary defeat.

At the workshop, I was honored to receive HumanDHS’s 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award. I am especially grateful to founding president Evelin Lindner and director Linda Hartling for this honor. In my last post, I referred to my association with HumanDHS as a “values-clarifying experience.” (I don’t think I’ve ever used that term on this blog before!) Translated into plainer English, it means that this connection helps me to sort the important stuff from lesser priorities.


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4 responses

  1. Thanks, David, you said it so well! The opportunity to have respectful conversations about challenging topics with such passionate group of people was inspirational at these troublesome times. I left inspired, renewed and energized. “Hearts on the ground” to quote Michael Britton. I hope you get to post his video, I would love to recreate that moment.

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