Dear IDF Friends & Partners,
As we wind down 2018, we have much to be grateful for as we look back on our year. As you may have noticed, this was a year of growth for us – we expanded our team to eleven! One thing that we have committed ourselves to is to continue to learn and grow together as a team and with you, our friends and partners. We just finished reading and discussing the topic of dignity after reading an important article called Dignity and Development put out by Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace. Dignity is something most people affirm in the abstract but, as this article describes, it is not so easy to pull off in spite of all of our good intentions. Indeed, there are so many forces in our world that seem to conspire against dignity. To bring the topic down to earth, I asked our team to put their own words to what this simple yet elusive concept is in very concrete personal terms:
What does it look like to you when someone is treated with dignity?
What does it look like to you when someone is NOT treated with dignity?
To give you a window into what’s on our mind as we close out the year and who all of the amazing people are on our expanding team, I’d love to share with you a few snippets of how all of the voices on our team answered my question:
Seeing someone treated with dignity means you are seeing and experiencing someone as their whole, true self. Dignity is such a fundamental piece of the human experience that is often assumed to be present or taken for granted, but when it is absent, I feel it is impossible to give focus, energy, effort to much beyond trying to restore that sense of your own humanity and equality.
Dignity requires that we acknowledge our common humanity and also individual agency over our lives. I can recall many instances where development work in the Global South does not consider the dignity of those they serve — where individuals and communities are treated as passive beneficiaries, props, or as problems to be fixed. Bringing dignity to development requires that we embrace communities as the de facto experts on the problems they face, and engage local leaders as the people most capable of solving them.
Dignity is seeing another person as a human–beyond the categories and labels that have been instilled upon us that highlight our “differences”. I think when you truly hold dignity as a value, you make an attempt to see a person for who they are, and in that, you create solidarity that cuts across any system or practice that has been set to divide us.
Based on my experience in humanitarian aid and development contexts, I most relate dignity with power dynamics in relationships. One sentence in the article stands out in particular, “It is not for people with power to decide what people with no power need.” Power, voice, control, and choice are key to how we relate with one another. In other words, dignity is being dignified in how we treat each other. Treating someone with dignity requires us to recognize her or his worthiness simply for being human. Dignity requires trust. When we fail to treat others with dignity we fail to allow people to be their whole selves, making us undignified.
Treating someone with dignity shows them that you value who they are. It is looking beyond their “cover” and seeing the inside – their heart – and recognizing the unique talents and gifts that God has given them. It is taking the time to think about their purpose here and how can you play a role in encouraging and supporting them to reach their potential. When we let this abstract concept of dignity fall by the wayside, we set our relationships, programs and world up for failure. Being dignified and treating others with dignity lifts all of humanity.
Dignity is as fundamental as life and liberty. With it, we cherish our fellow human beings; without it, we risk losing a part of our humanity. Whereas philanthropy means love of humanity, when we truly love another, we will seek to honor their dignity.
Being Christian, believing that we are all children of the same God, created in His image, dictates that we treat all human life with dignity. To treat someone with anything but dignity is to miss an opportunity to see the face of God.
When someone is not treated with dignity, we all lose. We lose a sense of our shared humanity, and we all suffer. But when a person is treated with dignity, their own innate beauty is celebrated, and our shared experience as human beings is made that much more beautiful.
Much of my growth, spiritually and as a person, has come from drafting off the wake of a little speed boat named Emily Nielsen Jones. About ten years ago or so, Emily got fascinated with snowflakes – their incredible beauty under a microscope and their uniqueness. In the same way, we human beings are each made with unique skills, interests, gifts and beauty. It is in this reality that our dignity rests and it is also where the name for the Imago Dei Fund was born. From the start, we’ve drawn on the belief that God makes every person uniquely beautiful, a reflection of the creator, an “image of God”. In our work, we hope to tap deeply into the basic dignity of each person and do our part to help restore dignity and beauty where tarnished – in individuals, our communities and our world.
When someone is treated with dignity… there is a shared sense of common humanity, that we are all in this together. The light within me sees and honors the light within you. When someone is not treated with dignity… we see one another more as a functional role and our ties become more transactional. In the process, we lose some of our own humanity and a sense for the intangible which holds life together.
When someone is NOT treated with dignity their humanity is violated. They become invisible – not seen or heard. They are treated as if they have no value. However, dignity is also a mutual construct – if we do not treat others with dignity we are undignified ourselves. What an opportunity dignity provides us, both for ourselves and for others – to engage in the human act of connection, consideration, to live the “platinum rule” – treat others as they want to be treated. If we could extend this idea to the work of development, of building community, of walking alongside (rather than in front), of others in the world, imagine how much better the world would be for all of us.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
From the IDF Team