Dignifying Dignity

by Jo Hart | Posted in Politics & Opinions Les på Norsk

Bogotá, October 2015: Coincidences (and intensive conference participation) has made me cross paths with the word dignity an odd number of times. Experts, activists and other know-how’ers have treated topics like:

– dignity for urban spaces
– dignity for victims of conflict
– dignity in public policy

As appropriate in the conference format, aspects worthy of critique, in this case the unworthy, has undergone scrutiny. I have been told that:

– plastic chairs holding the Coca Cola logo are unworthy
– asymmetric architecture is unworthy
– biking in car lanes is unworthy
– a cis-normative healthcare system is unworthy
– minimum offers to poor people (as in food over political rights) is unworthy

From this remarkably non-coherent list, it seems that the term is thrown around rather casually, arguably running the risk of losing its meaning altogether. Further: can one discern the contours of an elitist term? Unworthy does seem to have some more momentum to it, compared to the mere “ugly”/”bad”/”trashy”, thus legitimizing its use in academic circles, even when it could be replaced by one of its more popular offsprings without losing its meaning (only its user’s image, and the academic image must indeed not be ridiculed).

In the world where I come from, the easy path is criticism over definition. As easy is a bore, we’ll go counter current to investigate what dignity does mean to a selection of eminent voices whose owners care more than average about the big and the small systems we find ourselves in.

Journalist/editor, Norway

A worthy elderly care
A worthy asylum policy
A worthy state budget
A worthy tunnel

A worthy educational reform
A worthy road network
A worthy Planning and Building Department
A worthy state

A worthy children’s parade
A worthy Investigation Committee
A worthy death
A worthy rye bread


Actor/artist, United Kingdom
“Dignity” in my head is a bit similar to the English concept (I am English after all!) of having a “stiff upper lip” in the face of every eventuality. That does not mean, however, that that lip has to be insensitive. There’s a great poem by Kipling…”if” that I think sums this up.

Teacher, Syria/Russia/Morocco
Being treated as human, regardless my gender, religion, physical condition, needs and demands. In that order.


Lawyer, Norway
I think it is to accept the way the person you meet understands the situation, and adjust your own expression according to this. Finding a solution that maintains both mine and your understanding of the situation. Doesn’t have to agree, but kind of not write off the subjective truth. And then it has to be some out-of-comfort zone-stuff. Being considerate towards the fundamental fears of people. All cray stems from an underlying fear…(?)


Narcotics policies activist, Norway
The possibility to live without being a burden to oneself nor to others.


Bioethics lawyer, Lithuania/Norway
Dignity is a synonym for love and acceptance concerning human dignity, I think. By accepting a person the way she/he is, you give value to her/him. The person becomes “prescious”, or “means something”, someone we “care about”. We do not give value nor love to the ones who let us down, nor the ones who we do not accept. The ones opposing our values, for example. Terming people without value has become reason for homophobia, racism and exclusion politics.


Psychologist, Colombia
To me, dignity is being able to walk with my head high and to feel acknowledged for what I am. To feel that I deserve respect and that I am worth something as a person.


Photographer/activist, Norway
Dignity = being proud of who you are


LGBT activist, Sweden/Norway
Having control of your (life) situation, the feeling of being able to master something. But in situations where we do not have control, it is all about knowing about and remembering your value as a human being.

What does dignity mean to you?



Be the first to comment on this article!