Human Dignity has been at the center of political, legal, and ethical discourses and is often seen as a foundational commitment to human status or value. However, there have been several issues regarding it most notably the source of that status or value. There have been several contentious issues concerning human dignity, and apart from the source of it, there are others which will be discussed later in this article. First of all, it is essential to acknowledge that human dignity has indeed become commonplace in today’s world. Dignitas is the Latin word for dignity, and it means worthiness. The implication here is, therefore, that every human being is worthy of respect, right to live, and honor regardless of their origin, place of birth, color, etc. Additionally, this also means that human dignity is inherent and therefore, no man can be stripped off his. Some would argue that it is also an inalienable or absolute gift from God and everything in this life springs from it. However, this is challenged and as will be elucidated later, is one of the contentious issues regarding human dignity.
Dignity is not about Respect
Whenever talk of dignity is initiated, people tend to steer the conversation towards issues of respect. However, what many fail to realize is that dignity and respect are two different words and with different meanings. Respect, first of all, is earned and mostly through one’s actions but dignity is considered inherent. Additionally, dignity cannot be lost regardless of what one does, their value as human beings will always be considered supreme. However, respect can be lost, and this can take a few minutes to happen. There is indeed a need for people to understand the concept of human dignity. Learning about dignity helps people to realize their innate “desire to be treated as something of value” (Hicks, 2013). This Hicks says is men’s “highest common denominator.” Everyone feels and senses their value, but without understanding it, one leaves room for violations. Often, people forget or fail to put their human identity first, and this often leads to conflict.
This innate feeling to be loved, seen, listened to, heard, understood, to be recognized, and to be treated fairly all comes or stems from human dignity and not respect. Dignity gifts us or makes us feel included, free and independent, as well as accepted and this helps people to lead lives while they are filled with hope. When we recognize each other’s value, we rise beyond respecting each other but seeing each, other as worthy beings who we share the world. We learn that we can always reconnect especially when we practice simple things like apologizing. People live their lives with a deep and limitless comprehension of their true value.
Can Dignity be violated?
Unfortunately, the answer here is yes, and as will be discussed below, there are various ways in which one’s dignity and honor can be violated.
- First violation involves humiliation
Humiliation leads or causes one to lose pride, dignity, and self-respect. It simply demeans someone and makes them lose confidence in themselves and their value as people. It also evokes painful feelings which arise from something disgraceful. A good example is bullying whether in school or on the streets. Bullying steals one’s joy, and the victims often end up humiliated. Feelings of worthlessness often emanate from acts of bullying.
- Second violation involves Objectification
Objectification can be described as simply the act of treating someone like an object and not as a human being. A good example is slavery and how the slave owners viewed their slaves as property and not as human beings worthy of human rights. Treating someone like an object often leads to the loss of respect as well as their value as human beings. Another modern example is the objectification of women especially on the basis of their sexual attributes. Numerous advertisements have been the subject of discussions and debates because of their objectification of women. The sad bit is there are those who believe in what they are doing and therefore, fight back. However, they fail to realize the implication of their actions and the influence they have on the society.
- The third violation of human dignity involves Degradation
Degradation mainly involves treating people like they are of lesser value than you. The society is filled with a myriad of examples, and these habits are often easily acquired by the younger generations. There are instances where people have killed simply because they are “white” and therefore consider themselves supreme. Blacks have also distanced themselves from the whites simply because they believe they are not “cool enough.” These among other examples are reminiscent of a society that violates the dignity of each other.
- The last violation involves Dehumanization
Dehumanization can be described as a person’s or people’s denial of the humanness of another person or other people. There are numerous examples of people in today’s society who have been told they do not belong simply because they lack something or are not endowed with certain talents. Some people have also been asked to do scathing things just to be accepted into certain groups because they were told they do not fit.
The truth is, today’s society is filled with numerous examples of people who violate each other’s dignity. However, we can rise above certain acts and value each other’s place and life as our own.
Contentious Issues regarding Human Dignity
Source of Human Dignity
As earlier stated, there are those who believe that human dignity is natural or God-given and consider it an endowment and not something that can be achieved. Based on the above, it is, therefore, God who gives people dignity from the time they are conceived (Woodhead, 2006). This means that man has to accept it because it is an intrinsic part of him. However, there are those who ask whether we should base the idea of human dignity on faith alone. Monslave and Roman (2009) argue that the idea of human dignity can, therefore, be considered artificial and while it is useful, “it has no correspondence to an alleged reality of human nature since the existence of the latter is doubtful.”
Universal or Individual
The other contentious issue regarding human dignity involves whether it should be viewed or considered as a universal value or attribute of all men. If it were viewed as universal, this would mean that there would be one human dignity applicable to every man on earth. However, Lee (2008) opined that human dignity could be a value based on the different societies in the world and that each could create or come up with ideas of how people could or should relate with each other. These sentiments are echoed by Monsalve and Roman (2009) who add that one could, therefore, “speak of the dignity of human beings as a Latin American, or as an Easterner, or as a woman, as a Native American, etc.”
Human dignity is indeed contentious, but there is no denying that it has helped to bring people closer. The truth is, man values and respects his fellow man simply because of it and the world is a much better place because of it.
- Hicks, D. (2013). What Is the Real Meaning of Dignity? Psychology Today. Retrieved January 5, 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dignity/201304/what-is-the-real- meaning-dignity-0
- LEE, Man Yee Karen. 2008. Universal Human Dignity: Some Reflections in the Asian Context. Asian Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 3, No. 1, pg. 1-33.
- Monsalve, V., & Roman, J. (2009). Tensions of human dignity: conceptualization and application to international human rights law. SciELO Analytics, Vol. 6, No. 11.
- Soulen, Kendall., & Woodhead, L. (2006). God and Human Dignity. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.