I’ve been invisible. I didn’t choose to be invisible, so this is not a story about any superpowers I may or may not have. Instead, as today opens the Month of Dignifying Others here in the CONNECT! Community, I’ve been reflecting on what it’s like to be marginalized in society, forgotten or invisible.
This is a topic leaders don’t often discuss. Sales managers don’t talk to sellers about the need to dignify each and every customer. Senior leaders don’t set expectations around the way managers are to honor and respect direct reports. No one is rewarded for the way they ennoble others or acknowledge their worth. It is assumed we will all do this in adequate measure.
But if we did, no one would ever feel sidelined in the workplace. Buyers would never feel that sellers overlooked their needs. Leaders would not be ineffective as a result of their own egos.
Dignity means worthy of honor and respect, having merit. It stems from the Latin dignitas meaning “equivalent to.” Dignifying others means to confer honor or dignity or to ennoble them. It means showing respect for another’s worth and acknowledging each person as equivalent to every other person.
It’s easier to dignify some people than it is to dignify others. We put the burden on the other party instead of accepting our own responsibility for how we treat others. We allow our discomfort regarding those who are unlike us to justify our un-dignifying behaviors.
Three years ago I was in a freak accident that required two extended hospital stays, surgery to remove a portion of my left calf and six months in a wheelchair. That’s how I became invisible. Suddenly, clerks and servers preferred to speak to my young son instead of addressing me. Frequently, people I passed averted their eyes and would not return my smiles or greetings. Occasionally, when relenting to talk directly to me, people would dumb down what they said as if I were a child.
My experience was temporary. I knew I would recover and regain full use of my leg and full regard from others. That isn’t the case for many who are not acknowledged as equals and given the dignity they, too, deserve.
Global Dignity is an independent, non-political organization dedicated to promoting the universal right of every human being to lead a dignified life. I like the five principles they set for framing up what we’d believe in order to truly dignify all others. The Dignity Project’s principles are:
- Every human being has a right to lead a dignified life.
- A dignified life means an opportunity to fulfil one’s potential, which is based on having a humane level of health care, education, income and security.
- Dignity means having the freedom to make decisions on one’s life and to be met with respect for this right.
- Dignity should be the basic guiding principle for all actions.
- Ultimately, our own dignity is interdependent with the dignity of others.
An important exclusion to note: You don’t have to agree with others, endorse their actions, like their choices, be comfortable around them, or share their beliefs in order to dignify them. All you have to do is respect that every other person has merit and worth that is equivalent to your own.
Our guest bloggers this month will share examples of times when they have not been dignified by others and times when they have failed to extend dignity, too. These 30 stories will give you a range of perspectives and ideas about how to dignify others (customers, strangers, co-workers, employees and others we share the planet with) and why it matters.
Here’s my challenge for all of us as we consider this topic. Think about a time when you did not dignify another person and chose instead to disgrace, insult or humiliate. Ponder the indignity you showed and its impact. Maybe it was a childhood taunt, a workplace rivalry, a difficult customer or a stranger on the street. We’ve all done this at one time or another. Don’t let yourself off too easy here with common excuses like these:
- We were just kids. We didn’t know any better…
- I worked hard to get where I am. People who make different choices don’t deserve…
- She’s just too sensitive. I didn’t mean anything by it…
- He was asking for it…
- Everyone else was…
Part two of the challenge is to make amends. You may not be able to locate the girl you relentlessly harassed in middle school or the mentally ill homeless man you laughed at with your friends. That’s okay. Just look around for someone else who might be an easy target for indignities like the ones you perpetuated. Now make amends by deliberately honoring this person’s merit and worth as equivalent to your own. Acknowledge this person as you would wish to be acknowledged and recognized.
See? That wasn’t so bad. In fact, notice that little warm fuzzy you feel despite your initial discomfort. That is a manifestation of dignity’s real power. It is reciprocal. When you dignify and ennoble others, then (and only then) can you earn the full respect and dignity you deserve, too. It comes from simply being dignified humans together.
This blog post kicks off the CONNECT! Community’s March focus on dignifying others. As a leader, it’s imperative to understand what it means to dignify others and how to consistently do so. Learn more about the impact of dignifying others and how you can CONNECT2Lead. And be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog for weekly tips and techniques on leading with a people first approach.