One of my Twitter friends, who uses the handle Black Mamba, posted a query about ‘Quiet dignity’ recently. That got me thinking about my dad. He was a fellow with a dignified bearing and when he went out wearing his heavy black camel hair coat he cut an impressive figure. Yet he was working class all the way, earning less annual salary when he retired than what I received in my first year of teaching. He valued honesty, harmony and quiet. He showed it in his behaviour. He did not aspire to dignity, but from my observations, he personified it.
Some see the characteristics of dignity in a negative way equating it with arrogance, pomposity, prudery, and indifference to others. My father was often quick to make himself secondary in a gathering at his home in an effort to let his guests shine. Never hoity-toity and also never afraid to be the clown, I once saw him dress in an outlandish costume for a municipal function. It puzzled me that he would put himself out there in such a manner when it wasn’t even Halloween. One of my few regrets is feeling embarrassed by my father at that moment.
I think dignity is one of those things we are taught. Early on I was told to stand up straight and speak only when spoken to. The outfit I chose to wear was judged before I left for school. I was asked if I had clean underwear lest I be involved in an accident and had to be undressed in hospital. I recall hearing folks indicate that some behaviours or occupations were beneath their dignity. Others have told me that they would never dignify certain remarks with a comment of their own.
Some, like my dad, taught me the importance of giving others dignity by showing respect. I once sang in a choir with an elderly gentleman who had an air about him that I came to believe was a state of grace. Some church people called him refined. When he interacted socially I never saw him belittle anyone for a point of view, even if he disagreed with their perspective. Donald Trump is the antithesis of men such as these. His indignations abound and are public record. Heads of state can be faulted for false displays of dignity; that’s where pomposity is found. Yet The Donald seems to flaunt his indignity, even as he struts royally with tissues stuck to the heel of his shoe. My grandmother would have been mortified.
Dignity is not confined to nobility, though it is often equated to it. All humans deserve to be treated with dignity. All life is worthy. Animal activists claim that we must look harder at the way we treat other living things since they suffer huge indignities under our watch, as permitted by biblical edict,”…they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
We must do better.