Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict

Foreword by Archbishop Emeritus DESMOND TUTU
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vm0gb
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The desire for dignity is universal and powerful. It is a motivating force behind all human interaction-in families, in communities, in the business world, and in relationships at the international level. When dignity is violated, the response is likely to involve aggression, even violence, hatred, and vengeance. On the other hand, when people treat one another with dignity, they become more connected and are able to create more meaningful relationships. Surprisingly, most people have little understanding of dignity, observes Donna Hicks in this important book. She examines the reasons for this gap and offers a new set of strategies for becoming aware of dignity's vital role in our lives and learning to put dignity into practice in everyday life.

    Drawing on her extensive experience in international conflict resolution and on insights from evolutionary biology, psychology, and neuroscience, the author explains what the elements of dignity are, how to recognize dignity violations, how to respond when we are not treated with dignity, how dignity can restore a broken relationship, why leaders must understand the concept of dignity, and more. Hicks shows that by choosing dignity as a way of life, we open the way to greater peace within ourselves and to a safer and more humane world for all.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16638-5
    Subjects: Psychology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword (pp. ix-x)
    Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

    I have come to appreciate Donna Hicks’s excellent work in the field of human dignity and to value her friendship. I encouraged her to share her insights with a wider audience. This she has now done, and I congratulate her for bringing so clearly to the fore in this compelling book the concept of dignity, that inalienable God-given right of all humankind. This book is timely. We seem somehow to have forgotten that all beings are equal in dignity, the tenet in the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The prophet in Donna Hicks brings us back...

  4. Preface (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction: A New Model of Dignity (pp. 1-24)

    On a steamy tropical morning in 2003, I walked into a room full of civilian and military leaders in a Latin American country. The tension in the room was as oppressive as the heat outside. There was so much hostility, the parties in conflict wouldn’t look either at each other or at me. Although the conflict I had been called to address revolved around the inability of these key leaders to work together, the decades of civil war the country had experienced could not help but contribute to the tensions I now felt.

    My partner, Ambassador José Maria Argueta, and...

    • [ONE Introduction] (pp. 25-32)

      Dignity has these ten essential elements. We have to become aware of its essential elements to understand how to honor the dignity of others. Since our lack of awareness can make us violate others’ dignity, we have to learn how that can happen. We also have to develop our sensitivity to the ways others experience us. With a developed sensitivity to others’ points of view, we can minimize the times when we unknowingly violate their dignity and increase our chances of communicating that we value everyone we meet.

      How did I derive the essential elements of dignity? While I was...

    • 1 Acceptance of Identity (pp. 33-43)

      One beautiful October morning in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was at a colleague’s house for a daylong meeting to discuss the future of a project that could make a significant contribution to improving the political situation in the Middle East. I was a newcomer to the project, invited by the organizers, along with five other people, to bring new ideas to the table. Those gathered that day were a diverse group: “peace entrepreneurs” with ties to philanthropy and the business world, area specialists from Latin America and the Middle East, a prominent member of the arts community, and a number of...

    • 2 Inclusion (pp. 44-48)

      After spending fifteen years in Madison, Wisconsin, having built a rich life with a strong sense of community, good friends, and an abiding love of the area’s natural beauty (Madison is situated among five lakes), I left in September 1991, only days after submitting my completed dissertation to the registrar’s office at the university. Leaving was difficult because I was saying good-bye to a life that was good beyond what I had ever thought possible. I had felt seen, supported, honored, and loved by my community—I belonged.

      Yet a strong force was tugging at me, making me let go...

    • 3 Safety (pp. 49-58)

      My husband, Rick, and I were invited to the home of new friends for dinner to celebrate the seventh birthday of their youngest child, Seth (not his real name). When we pulled into the driveway, we saw about a dozen children playing soccer in their big backyard. The house and gardens were beautiful—our friends had spent time and effort on landscaping—and because it was such a warm night, they had decided to have the party outside. The dinner table was set underneath a huge maple tree strung with little white lights.

      Before we got out of our car,...

    • 4 Acknowledgment (pp. 59-62)

      In the early days of my career, I felt a little uneasy at international conferences because I was often one of a handful of women participating. Men always led the discussions, and at times it was daunting to speak up. Sometimes it took a lot of inner strength and self-persuasion for me to raise my hand.

      I attended a small meeting of international experts, from diplomats to academics—maybe thirty people were there—who had gathered to identify and discuss the cutting-edge issues in the field of international conflict. A middle-aged man whose organization was responsible for convening the meeting...

    • 5 Recognition (pp. 63-70)

      A participant in one of my workshops, Brian (not his real name) told a story about approaching his supervisor, Tom (not his real name), with a solution to a problem that had long plagued the company—a problem that Tom had to deal with every day. But Tom didn’t have the authority to make the necessary changes; so he asked Brian to develop a PowerPoint presentation to show to colleagues in senior management. Brian was pleased that his boss recognized his insight, and he knew that if the company adopted his recommendation, not only would the problem be fixed, but...

    • 6 Fairness (pp. 71-74)

      At the end of a two-week trip to Sri Lanka, my colleagues, William Weisberg and Sydney Silva, and I had seen more than enough human tragedy. The Tamil Tigers and the government of Sri Lanka were at war. We went from one part of the country to the other, interviewing potential participants for a workshop that would bring together representatives of the Tamil, Muslim, and Sinhalese communities for dialogue. Just getting around Sri Lanka, with the incessant traffic jams, pollution, and intolerable heat, left us exhausted by the end of every day.

      One day, when we were stopped at a...

    • 7 Benefit of the Doubt (pp. 75-80)

      One of the greatest demonstrations of human dignity I have come across in the many years that I have been grappling with the subject was when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison after twenty-seven and a half years of confinement by the apartheid government in South Africa and announced that he had no anger in his heart toward whites. That, as I said earlier, earned him enormous respect. In his autobiography,Long Walk to Freedom, he describes how he felt at his first press conference, a day after his release on February 12, 1990. In response to a question, Mandela...

    • 8 Understanding (pp. 81-85)

      “Once we get straight the equality between men and women, many of the other ‘isms’ will disappear.”¹ I hope Shulamuth Koenig, director of the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning, is right in saying so, but at this point in human history, we still have a way to go before we find out. Koenig believes that it is the quality of the relationship between men and women that sets the stage for all other relationships. If children see their parents treating each other with dignity, then they will develop an imprint in their brain about how all others should be...

    • 9 Independence (pp. 86-88)

      War is the inevitable consequence of choosing to resolve differences by force. Domination and control are the goals of war. Prisoners may be taken, and we all know that torture is not uncommon when they are questioned, even though international law forbids it.

      At the end of a conflict-resolution workshop between warring parties held at Harvard, I had an opportunity to speak privately with one of the participants, someone who played a leadership role in his community, about the time he had spent in prison as a political prisoner. I wasn’t planning to have an intimate conversation. We were seated...

    • 10 Accountability (pp. 89-92)

      A couple of months after 9/11, my colleague William Weisberg and I were invited to facilitate an interfaith dialogue in New York City involving several members of the Christian community and representatives of the Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim faith traditions. Tensions were high, and misunderstandings abounded. Everyone was nervous about how the day was going to go.

      To the great relief of the facilitators, most of the morning session, designed to clarify misconceptions about the various religions, went well. Not until the end of the discussion did one of the Christian ministers (male) and a Muslim religious counselor at a...

    • [TWO Introduction] (pp. 93-97)

      When I created the dignity model, I developed the ten essential elements of dignity that we looked at in part I. The purpose of the model was to give a clear picture of what it looked like to honor dignity, on the one hand, and what it looked like to have one’s dignity violated or to violate it in others, on the other hand. Describing dignity violations took the concept of dignity out of the realm of abstraction and made it part of our everyday lives. The ten essential elements also provided a language with which to talk about dignity....

    • 11 Taking the Bait (pp. 98-102)

      The subway terminal was packed. When the train pulled in, out came another crowd of shoving, pushing people. One young man, iPod plugged in, bumped into another man on the platform, nearly knocking him over, but his victim was saved from falling by a woman behind him. The young man with the iPod immediately said that he was sorry, that he hadn’t been paying attention, but the man he had knocked into was so angry that he wanted to fight. He yelled obscenities, and a couple of people with him held him back from taking a swing.

      I could see...

    • 12 Saving Face (pp. 103-106)

      The temptation to save face is as powerful as our fight-or-flight instinct, but we may not be as aware of how automatic it is and how deep the impulse is to want to look good in the eyes of others. When we are confronted with a situation in which our hurtful words or actions are exposed, or in danger of being exposed, and we are not ready to admit to them, this instinct tells us to lie, to obscure the truth, to do whatever it takes to protect ourselves. The dread of having our inadequacy, incompetence, or lack of moral...

    • 13 Shirking Responsibility (pp. 107-113)

      The temptation for us to shirk our responsibility when we hurt others is similar to the instinctive reaction to save face. We prefer to minimize a painful incident and hope that the memory of it will go away. Sweeping the issue under the carpet is the choice of our self-protective Me. That part of us would rather deny the wrongdoing than have us be held responsible and have to change our behavior. How do we overcome this powerful impulse? How do we shift this internal default setting from defensiveness to accountability when the situation clearly calls for it? How do...

    • 14 Seeking False Dignity (pp. 114-121)

      Scenario One. I have a friend (I will call her Maura) who has frequent bouts of depression. In a vulnerable moment, she once told me that she never feels as though she measures up; she has a hard time seeing anything but her imperfections, and her internal dialogue is fraught with self-doubt. Looking at her from the outside, I find it hard to imagine why. She is smart and attractive, has a high-status job, and makes a six-figure salary.

      True, her personal life was a mess. She attributes her difficulty in maintaining a relationship to her demanding job. When I...

    • 15 Seeking False Security (pp. 122-125)

      Maria (not her real name), a participant in a dignity workshop, had been trapped in a relationship with her former husband, Bill (not his real name), for a number of years before she realized that her fear of not being able to manage on her own was not only keeping her in a dysfunctional relationship but also holding her back from fulfilling some of her own aspirations and goals for her life. Bill had been having an affair with another woman for years, but that was only part of the problem in their marriage. Once Maria learned the essential elements...

    • 16 Avoiding Conflict (pp. 126-142)

      To speak up when someone has violated our dignity is hard to do. How often do we let everyday violations slide by and say nothing about them? Let’s say a colleague dismisses a concern you raised about whether to move ahead on a project. A majority of coworkers would like to call a halt. But without seeking to understand your perspective, the colleague continues to talk about moving the project forward. Or, you are in a staff meeting and your boss announces that he is planning to override a decision you made about retaining an employee who had repeatedly harassed...

    • 17 Being the Victim (pp. 143-148)

      We are always ready to ward off incoming information that feels threatening to us: our self-preservation instincts kick in. It is worth repeating that although these instincts most likely evolved originally to protect us from physical threats, we respond today to psychological threats—violations of our dignity—as if our lives were on the line. One obvious example can be seen in the way we instantly assume the position of the victim when a relationship goes wrong. Our internal default setting externalizes the problem even if we contributed to it. The temptation to see the other person as the perpetrator...

    • 18 Resisting Feedback (pp. 149-163)

      Ted (not his real name), who held a significant leadership position in his company, derived much of his sense of self-worth from having such a high level of authority. He had worked hard to reach his position and was understandably proud of his accomplishments. In his view, his relationships with those reporting directly to him were satisfactory, although staff meetings were tense at times. He often had to exert his authority when important decisions had to be made, but for the most part, he felt that he was doing a good job as a manager. It thus came as shock...

    • 19 Blaming and Shaming Others to Deflect Your Own Guilt (pp. 164-169)

      A survival strategy that protects us from appearing vulnerable and in the wrong is to blame and shame others for our mistakes. Denial goes hand in hand with this reaction. Shaming and blaming others works well only when we have convinced ourselves that we have done nothing wrong. Because denial is a species-level response, we see it taking place at the international level as much as in personal relationships, in Slobodan Milošević’s denial of war crimes in the Balkans and in a spouse’s denial of an extramarital affair. Human beings resist having their errors and misdeeds exposed. A big news...

    • 20 Engaging in False Intimacy and Demeaning Gossip (pp. 170-174)

      Jason was anxious to become acquainted with Megan, who had been hired to head the new development office of the nonprofit organization for which he was the deputy director. There were lots of internal problems in the organization; lack of funding to support their ongoing activities was one. Everyone thought Megan would be just the right person to help the organization get back on its feet financially. In interviews, she had come across as a savvy “people person.” Those who had met with her probably also hoped that she would have an influence on the organization’s leadership—specifically, the executive...

    • [THREE Introduction] (pp. 175-176)

      “Can there be any hope of healing, any thought of reconciliation, without an attempt to face the truth?” This is the question that BBC presenter Fergal Keane asked as he opened the three-part television seriesFacing the Truth, in which victims and perpetrators of the conflict in Northern Ireland came together for face-to-face encounters.

      As a convener of numerous dialogues between warring parties all over the world, I have asked myself that question many times. What people experience during war often exceeds their capacity—determined by their biological equipment and mental hardwiring—to process those experiences. As T. S. Eliot...

    • 21 Reconciling with Dignity (pp. 177-196)

      Two men in their late fifties sat at a round table shifting in their seats and looking everywhere but at each other. The room was dimly lit except for the lights positioned by the BBC engineer to illuminate the men’s faces. Each face was expressionless yet alert, as if the men were readying for the first strike. Ronnie, a former member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), had served twenty-one years in prison for nearly killing the man who sat opposite him, a British police officer named Malcolm from Southampton, England.

      In March 2005, more than thirty years after the...

    • 22 Dignity’s Promise (pp. 197-200)

      Bruce Perry, the child psychiatrist who also trained as a neuroscientist, writes that the single most important thing to know about healing from psychological injuries is that loving and supportive relationships have power.¹ He goes so far as to say that although the professional therapeutic relationship is important, what happens outside therapy can be even more healing.

      Simple acts of dignity—listening to people and acknowledging their presence, their experiences, and their suffering—can help them recover their self-worth. I have seen it happen many times.

      When people suffer an injury to their sense of worth, the antidote is time...

  10. Notes (pp. 201-210)
  11. Selected Bibliography (pp. 211-216)
  12. Index (pp. 217-221)


You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in to your personal account or through your institution.