Wisdom Living

Dignity

Introduction

After discussing the attitude of Openness, we may notice that by itself, though significantly important, leaves too much space for being misinterpreted. It needs some form to make it more successful and useful. Perhaps for that reason or, maybe independently, there was introduced the next paramita called in Sanskrit shila, which was usually translated into English as morality and discipline. Note that in my earlier video talks posted in the category Wisdom Training, I still used the more popular term discipline. However, after some deliberation, I decided to change it and introduced here the word dignity.

There are two reasons for this change: first, the idea of dignity more precisely expresses the larger scope of this attitude, and second because the term discipline acquired so many polluting connotations, mainly due to the Catholic church medieval education and other philosophies supporting stratification.

The attitude of dignity as boundary for openness

The idea of dignity went through various transformations. Originally, the Latin term dignus meant worthy and, this essential meaning is largely preserved. But dignity acquired additional characteristics and was used typically for the upper strata of society. Though sometimes here is also applied to characterize some aboriginals, which may point towards its original meaning.

In the context of wisdom training,  dignity has two roles; first, it provides precision for the generosity and second, it is an antidote to numerous personal and social ills imposed by impulsiveness of consumerism, entertainment, etc.

It also provides boundry to the attitude of openness, preventing interpreting openness as an excuse for sloppiness and lack of discernment. Such misinterpretation is easy because often being open implies non-adhering to social norms and permitting oneself and others to do what is not appropriate in a given situation,  for example, accepting someone’s sexual misbehaviour in the name of openness.

I will elaborate on the first role of dignity as boundaries for openness in this section, while the second will be discussed in the following.

If we are giving a material object or money, our attitude can be influenced by several states of mind,  which make this act lacking dignity. Here are some of them. We may give money to a beggar not because we want to help but because we are afraid to hurt his or her feeling; we can give something because we are embarrassed that we belong to the privileged ones, and the recipient does not, or we give to be viewed as a generous person.

As far as openness of receiving goes, we may accept someone’s views not because we share them or find hem interesting but again because we are afraid to hurt this person or to provoke an unpleasant interaction.

In all these situations are lack of dignity manifests as a lack of genuineness or cowardice. We feel a bad taste in our mouth, and the other party senses it as well.

The attitude of dignity not only prevents such situations but makes our actions helpful. Even if we decided not to give anything to a beggar and instead explain to this person why we do it,  then perhaps it may become helpful. The same may take place when we refuse to accept someone’s views or advice – as long as we do it with dignity and courage and without aggression, nothing problematic happens in spite that the other party may feel angry or hurt.

Such a form of dignity is by no means easy. We are strongly conditioned to avoid what we expect may have unpleasant consequences. That is why the attitude is so important – it helps us to return to our original dignity. The specific methods will be discussed in a separate section later on.

Degeneration of dignity

At its arising of humanity, its dignity was present in a symbolic manner, which we share with other hominids by standing upright on two feet as Homo Erectus.  Afterwards, as Homo Sapiens, we exhibited our dignity an aspect of human wisdom via its qualities such as compassion, ability to relate cause with results, generalize and discern could are incompatible with sloppiness, laziness and impulsiveness.

This situation continued until humanity felt into the trap of stratification, particularly with the emergence of patriarchy, wars and slavery. It seems obvious that a slave who was treated with lesser respect and care than animals could not maintain an attitude of self-dignity. From those times on, dignity was a quality reserved mainly for the upper class, particularly the priests, warriors and aristocracy.

This version of dignity has degenerated as a drive for higher social position, external appearance, proper rituals and expensive levels of education.

But it degenerated even further as pompousness, arrogance and dress code. Now it is hardly viewed as anything worth pursuing, particularly when we look at role models in the form of so-called “world leaders.” I do not think any examples are needed; it is enough to read their proclamation on Tweeter, which they are usually generous to share.  

The dignity as an antidote to personal and social ills

This section presents the preventive use of the attitude of dignity.  The word “preventive” in this context means that dignity may prevent numerous forms of behaviour which can harm others and ourselves.

We begin with discussion impulsiveness and over-excitement. The impulsiveness becomes more and more accepted and relevant, being fueled by interactive media and the speed of our modern lifestyle.

Impulsiveness is sometimes even considered as a virtue being confused with spontaneity,  in spite that they are fundamentally different. Spontaneity arises as a flash of intelligence and creativity, which was not predicted. We can find it not only in human behaviour but in physical phenomena which, defy the law of cause and end effect, like spontaneous changing of orbits of electrons and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Impulsiveness comes from strictly human habitual patterns such as greed, anger or fear. Dignity prevents it by allowing a period of reflection, which may help to see its roots and not follow the impulse.

Another form of modern behaviour that dignity may prevent is “crowd mentality.” It manifests particularly in interactive media like Facebook or Tweeter when people spue their opinions and sentiments. Unfortunately, victims of their aggression or approval take it seriously what may cause them all sorts of psychological damage. Dignity prevents participation in the production of this crap and also helps the recipients to see it what it is.

A dignified person would not participate in stampedes caused by Black Friday sales or spending nights in line to get the newest version of the iPhone, which another form crowd mentality.

 The above discussed kinds of behaviour are also based on indulgence when we overdo our reactions to something pleasurable, exciting or painful. The indulgence is not only human trade – animals deprived of their natural environment such as pets often indulge in overeating, but dignity is specifically human and thanks to it, we may avoid such trap. Unfortunately, particularly lately, it is not the case that manifests in growing new social ill: obesity.

Another negative aspect of life that dignity may prevent is laziness. It manifests not only in a conventional manner as an attitude of procrastinating or not doing at all what we feel we need to but also as overactivity: wasting time by spending hours on Facebook and similar. Again dignity may interfere and wake us up to what we really want.

How to awake our dignity

I purposely avoided the phrase “develop our dignity.” Dignity does not need development; instead, it needs reminding ourselves that we have it already.  The development would imply that it exists in some embryonic stage and we need to cultivate it, while it is not needed because dignity is present in us already.

However, reminding is necessary. The recommended technique is analogous to the one presented earlier when we talked about regaining our openness, in spite that the situations are different. Whenever we realize or at least notice, that we are acting impulsively, that we are driven by crowd mentality,  excited or lazy, we return to the state of MR. Afterwards, if this temptation will reoccur, then we return again. Finally, we can look at the situation rationally, and the presence of rationality is the signal that our dignity is back.

Before ending, I would like to underscore that suppressing such the undignified behaviour in the name of some moral principle, fear of embarrassment,  etc. is not the way to go. Our natural dignity is completely sufficient.

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