I’ve been thinking a lot about dignity recently. One dictionary defines it as self-respect and also as being worthy of honor or respect. So, we could say dignity is about seeing ourselves and others as worthy, valued, and needed. I might add, loved.
When I was first out of college I got a job teaching high school students who were much older than the normal age for the grade they were in. Several of them were actually older than I was. There were often days when some of them would call out in class. One fellow would even taunt me in front of the other students. It was difficult and disturbing for me.
So, as I usually do in any tough situation, I turned to God in prayer for comfort, guidance, and a solution. I prayed to see those students, and the one young man especially, as the children of God, reflecting the nature of God, good. Even though their behavior was not reflective of this identity, I asked God to help me see that they had the God-given capacity to express qualities such as respect, self-control, kindness, humility, dignity, and, yes, love for themselves, me, and the other students.
My basis for praying this way was this idea I’d learned in my study of Christian Science: that God is our divine Parent, the divine Spirit that created man (meaning all of us) in His likeness – that is, spiritual, whole, complete, significant, and good. We all have the innate capacity to see ourselves and others as God does, to recognize ourselves and everyone as the strong yet tender reflection of God, divine Love, with God-given dignity and worth. This is the true, spiritual nature of all of us, no matter what we look like, where we’re from, or how we may have acted in the past. And it’s a powerful basis for redeeming and restoring a lost sense of worth or respectfulness.
Thinking and praying with these ideas brought me a fuller sense of everyone’s inherent dignity, which helped me handle things that came up in the classroom. There was noticeable improvement in the classroom dynamics, too. For instance, while there was one more major flare-up with the young man, he never again spoke out in such a manner and moved on to a better comportment and attitude. Actually, to a better demonstration of his own self-worth and dignity.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that a man with leprosy approached Christ Jesus one day and asked for healing. In those times lepers were considered unclean, even defiled sinners, never to be approached or dealt with in any way, yet Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man, proclaiming, “Be thou clean.” The man was instantly and completely healed (see 8:1-3). Jesus had a clear sense of man’s innate dignity and worth as transcending physical appearance and mores of the day. His strong yet humble respect for man as God made us enabled him to bring health and healing to many.
Having a pure sense of dignity and respect for ourselves and others counters intolerance, temper, prejudice, and whatever else would sway our thoughts and actions from our natural spiritual attributes representative of the divine character. Speaking of guarding our thoughts, temper, and tongue, and referring to God as divine Soul, Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy writes in “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896” that “… trials lift us to that dignity of Soul which sustains us, and finally conquers them,” adding that “the ordeal refines while it chastens” (p. 126).
Acknowledging everyone’s true spiritual identity reveals that our God-given dignity, and that of others, is whole, intact, and undamaged, and opens the door for us and those around us to feel and live this dignity in daily life.