Dignity (2011)

Reading Donna Hicks’ Dignity, I continue to be struck by the foundational-level-ness of dignity: “Our emotional radar is set very low for indignities. The second we sense that someone is judging us or treating us unfairly or as if we are inferior, the emotional warning flashes on.” It seems that every aspect of human interaction can be viewed through the lens of dignity. So dignity seems terribly important for pastoral care. The notion of “demonstrat[ing] the care and attention for yourself and others that anything of value deserves,” of not missing “an opportunity to exert the power you have to remind others of who they are: invaluable, priceless and irreplaceable” becomes a basis for ministering to others (and to self). I know for me, I can be much more generous to others than I can be to myself, so part of my pastoral learning is how to see myself as “invaluable, priceless, and irreplaceable,” just as I am. I can give others the benefit of the doubt; can I give the benefit of the doubt to myself? Theologically, I’m coming to see also that I cannot be whole when I exclude or lack part of the community. So my journey to wholeness involves my interaction with all of creation. And, again, at the bottom of this is the dignity of creation and my call to affirm the dignity of creation.

Another aspect of the foundational-level-ness of dignity can be seen by the quote: “Unacknowledged feelings of shame (created by dignity violations) are at the heart of all human conflict. Unless attention is paid to them they can linger in perpetuity, dominating an individual’s or group’s identity.” For my theology of pastoral care, this means that feelings of “hurt” are probably actually feelings of dignity violation. And I suspect that people might accuse or feel that God has violated their dignity, depending on their point of view. It seems to me that the notion of “God not giving me more than I can handle” sets the stage for viewing God as a dignity violator. That is, a “God-given trauma” seems to violate identity, inclusion, safety, etc.—the essential elements of dignity. So in terms of “awareness,” I hear an invitation to be aware of dignity being at work at all levels of life and being on guard for violations and perceived violations.

The question “For Christians: What might dignity and the spirit of Christ have in common?” strikes me as especially interesting. When I read “spirit of Christ,” I hear “mind of Christ” and so Philippians 2. So what does dignity and kenosis have in common? It seems that thinking about the “I” and “Me” dichotomy that Hicks lays out allows us to see the “I” as analogous for the self-emptying love St. Paul says characterizes the mind of Christ. The knee-jerk “Me” is defensive and brash; the self-emptying “I” receives insult with generosity and sees others as “invaluable, priceless, and irreplaceable.”

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