A Dignified About-Face
When I was a kid, we had a cat named Dignity. We named him that, Mom said, “…because he had none.” That was certainly the case as a kitten, but as he grew older, like all cats, he managed to develop a certain feline dignity. Even when falling off a perch, he was a master of “I meant to do that…”
Well, Dora, l’ve had one motto which l’ve always lived by: ”Dignity. Always, dignity!” – Don Lockwood (played by Gene Kelly)
But what, really, does that mean? What is dignity? And don’t go all dictionary.com on me; you use the word, you must have some idea of what it means to you. So think about it for a moment: is dignity important to you? Do you have it? How do you know? What does it look like?
While I’m hoping to see your thoughts in the comments, right now I’ll tell you what I think: I think that dignity is something that you can only really feel for yourself. That is, I might look at a person and think they are dignified, but they feel ridiculous. At the same time, I might feel completely dignified myself and have other people thinking I’m ridiculous. In fact, I’m certain that latter phenomenon has occurred more than once.
So it’s a feeling – but a feeling of what, exactly? “It feels undignified…” is a common phrase – but what exactly does that mean?
When Purpose Unites with Principle
Working without dignity is to divorce our values from how we spend the majority of our waking hours. – Sam Spurlin, 99U
The Workologist (quoted above) lays out a pretty convincing argument that the essence of dignity is a combination of curiosity, craftsmanship, and humility. While I enjoyed his article (and site) immensely, I’m not sure that I think it needs to be that complicated. I believe dignity is acquired through one simple thing: uniting your principles and your actions together. Sometimes that’s unpleasant, such as when I deactivated my Facebook profile today.
Why did I deactivate it? Aside from the myriad privacy and identity issues that continue to plague the site, quite simply I have problems with an environment that bans images of nipples but finds videos of burning kittens alive acceptable. Or, to put it another way: the naked human body is verboten, but harming innocent life is ok. If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s fine; I’m not doing it to set an example, I’m doing it simply because my purpose on the internet – to communicate, to interact online – needs to align with my principles. Facebook doesn’t. Thankfully it’s not the only game in town.
Why am I sad? Have you ever tried to deactivate your account? They really do an amazing job of guilt-tripping you. They show your top friends (and family) and talk about how much they’ll miss you. They warn of all the email notifications and invites and birthdays you’ll miss. They let you go, finally, but they’re right: I will miss the easy access to seeing my daughters, my grandsons, my parents and cousins (especially you, Nate).
But at the same time: If my family and friends all hung out at a restaurant that was playing videos of kittens burning alive while kicking out nursing mothers, I would not frequent that restaurant. Even if I could look away and not see it, the mere fact of knowing it would be enough.
That, to me, is what dignity is. It’s a cold comfort, but it’s the knowledge, as Sam Spurlin would put it, that the place where we spend our waking hours is not divorced from our values. Rather, we create lives that reflect, reinforce, and improve our values and our relationships with each other.
Sorry, Facebook. It’s been fun, but until you grow up, I’m afraid I’m going to have to do without.