Friday, August 17, 2012

DIGNITY - My Definition

This past week I came upon the following article by Emily Wilkinson:
Dignity Defined What is it, exactly, and do we know it when we see it?  You may want to read the article here first.

Though the article doesn’t mention the title, she is reviewing a book, Dignity:It’s History and Meaning, by Harvard professor Michael Rosen. She says, truly, that “in the aesthetic sense of the word, ours is not a particularly dignified age.”  I’ll say it’s not! The book concerns dignity as it relates to our thinking and laws, to our definitions of human rights. It seeks to define and reconcile the divergent definitions and usages of the word dignity. I must admit that I have no inclination to do more than skim the book, but the article’s title, Dignity Defined, struck a chord relating to dignity and the lack thereof in our society. I’m not qualified to define dignity, yet I know the lack of it when I see it.

Consider the thirty-something mother, dashing out at the last minute, late on a Sunday afternoon, to catch the late mass at the Catholic Church. She’s dressed in a floaty top and cut off, ragged, short shorts, and is going only because lack of regular attendance will mean an increase in her children’s tuition at the church school.  Some would say “at least she’s going to church.” Some would decry her lack of dignity. Cringing on the inside, I stood by and watched her leave and I didn't say a word.  Shame on me?!

Consider the elderly man in a Florida restaurant, lazily slouching in a straight chair in the lobby.  His legs are spread, he’s wearing shorts but no underwear, and his parts are hanging out.  Are you getting a visual? Dignity?
Though he might like to be considered a dignified older gentleman, he left his dignity in his dictionary. Some would dismiss the incident as the failings of an old man, some would stare, some would laugh. (We didn’t know what to do! As we sat at our table he was right in our line of sight. We were distracted when our lunches arrived – after that, to our relief, he was gone.)

Consider two of my pet Pet Peeves: The wearing of flag-printed clothing and the wearing of religious symbols as fashion jewelry.  I can go along with a t-shirt with a flag printed on it, but not a t-shirt, or any other clothing, that looks like it was made from a flag, it’s a fine distinction, but my mind understands it.  The same thing for any other type of stylized flags, our own Stars and Stripes, or any other country’s, when used as clothing.  The Editor of Offbeat Earth would agree with me.

This guy should know better. 
Picture from Offbeat Earth via Google Images 

As to jewelry: eons ago for the Christmas family get-together, one of my nephews showed up wearing silvery dangling crosses in his pierced ears. Pierced ears I could maybe condone, but the dangling crosses were too much. I let him know that I thought the wearing of such things was no way to let the world know he was a Roman Catholic. To this day he probably thinks I’m a reactionary wacko, but to me a cross or medal or other religious symbol, worn hanging around the neck as has been traditional for centuries, is the only acceptable way to let the world know what you are.  I’m not sure if these two peeves are concerned more with respect than with dignity, but there you have it.  Perhaps it is this: they are dignified symbols that are worthy of our respect. I am a googling nut!  I checked out the Images section for 'cross earrings' - there are pictures galore so the practice must be widespread.  Does this make them dignified? Not on you life.

Dignity can’t be legislated, awarded or bestowed.  It has to be earned, one has to be worthy of it, one has to embody it.  Domine non sum dingus – Lord I am not worthy.  Dignitat is the Latin for worth or worthiness. Our word dignity stems from this root, but we’ve come to use the two words differently. One may be dignified, but is he worthy? It seems to me that somewhere along the line ‘they’, my favorite people, picked up dignity in place of value or worthiness.  They talk about the dignity of human life – that’s a bit of a stretch, though it can be said that human life has value or worth.  Wilkinson writes about the “semantic slipperiness” of dignity. Many current word meanings have strayed far from their origins.  If they got back to the core meaning of the word dignity, the worthiness or value of an entity, and let go of the empty definition that has evolved, there’d be less difficulty.  

Just check Google Images for Dignity and you'll see photos that
run the gamut from beautiful to almost obscene.

No comments:

Post a Comment