In case you hadn’t noticed, dignity is a rare commodity in our decadent, morally degenerate world of the new millennium. We see confirmation of this all around us in such phenomena as:
- Talk shows that feature tragic people emotionally and psychologically disrobing themselves in public while sharing their most intimate secrets with millions of lobotomized strangers.
- Attorneys who routinely advertise on radio, television, and billboards, urging prospects to demand their “rights” through legal action, though not that many years ago such tacky solicitations would have resulted in an attorney’s being blackballed by his profession.
- A tidal wave of verbal sloth. The “F word” has long been the in word, especially among teenagers. Worse, news commentators on the major networks routinely use incorrect words and phrases such as “very unique” (unique means “one of a kind”), “irregardless” (no such word), and “he is a man that always finishes first” (who always finishes first).
And, of course, the word like is inserted in front of virtually every sentence, as in, “Like … I mean … what’s a Valley Girl (or Caroline Kennedy) supposed to do?”
- Doctors and other professionals who wear casual clothes, even blue jeans, to the office.
- Role-model, multimillionaire athletes who, while not busy beating their wives and girlfriends or committing a variety of other felonies, fill mind-dulling interviews with such intellectual comments as, “C’mon, man,” “That’s what it’s all about,” and “We got the greatest fans in the world.” (Yuk!)
- Millions of people who surrender their individuality and throw in their lots with political-action groups who demand their “rights” (i.e., insist that the government fulfill their desires at the expense of others).
Which brings me to a fundamental misconception about dignity in our age of expanded rights. Political-action groups love to babble about the need to force everyone to treat this or that group of people with dignity, as though dignity were a right. But dignity is no more a right than love or friendship.
You should never allow yourself to get caught in the Dignity Trap, especially when it’s used as an excuse for failure (as in “victimization”), because the reality is that no one can be forced to treat you with dignity. Through a variety of applied pressures, someone might feel that it’s in his best interest to pretend to treat you with dignity, but such false dignity breeds only resentment.
So-called political correctness is a perfect example of this, so much so that, through ridiculous overuse, it has evolved from resentment into comedy. When a concept is no longer taken seriously, where’s the dignity?
Sadly, America has long been in the throes of a politically correct intellectual dark ages. Political correctness advocates now claim that more than 1 million college students have been victims of “ethnic violence” — which includes insults! (Can you imagine a blogger claiming that some of his readers’ nasty comments about him are a form of violence?) While many call it political correctness, I choose to call it insanity.
If violence now includes insults — insults that are defined by campus radicals of the 1960s who now control the centers of higher education — then all my dictionaries are outdated. Violence is the use of physical force with an intent to do harm.
Insults, on the other hand, come under the protection of free speech, and are subject to individual interpretation, at that. The road to a society where racism, to use the most common example, is minimized is paved not with coercion, but self-respect. It is self-respect that leads to dignity.
How does one acquire self-respect? Through personal virtuosity. In other words, dignity is derived from within. And from self-respect flows the respect of others — as a natural consequence.
Put another way, whereas civility has to do with how you treat others, dignity has to do with how you treat yourself. Sorry, activist sociopaths, but you don’t have a right to be treated with dignity. You do, however, have a right to possess dignity.
Demanding dignity from others is the ultimate self-delusion. If being treated with dignity is genuinely important to you, the most efficient way to bring that about is to act in dignified ways. And, happily, that’s something over which you have complete control.
Also, make it a point never to use the shopworn excuse that “everybody’s doing it” to rationalize undignified actions. Respectable people who are focused on improving their lives aren’t “doing it,” whatever “it” may happen to be at any given point in time, for the pragmatic reason that undignified actions simply are not in their best interest.
Always remember that dignity is about you, not society. You can wear your hair purple, put a diamond-studded earring in your nose, and have a snake tattoo burned into your forehead, but no one has to hire you or do business with you. (Although, sadly, our society is moving in that direction.) Further, if you decide to go this route, I highly recommend that you not relocate to Singapore, where caning is a national pastime.
The good news is that in spite of how decadent the world around you may be, you always have the option of rising above it and commanding (not demanding) the admiration and respect of others through your words and actions. Free will is a great invention. Use it.