10 Essential Elements of Dignity
Recently, our employees sat together to continue our training around dignity. Dignity is the inherent value and worth of every person. Harvard researcher Donna Hicks describes 10 elements of dignity in her work. As we proceed with these sometimes difficult conversations around dignity, I have been reflecting on the extent to which this work is at the heart of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts that this community has been engaged with for many years. Some quick online research shows I’m not alone in this thinking. In Stanford’s Social Innovation Review, I read about a global DEI consulting firm that has been shifting its focus towards dignity after realizing that acknowledging the value of every person must be firmly in place before inclusion and belonging can occur. Other consulting firms seem to be doing the same. Increasingly, organizations, including non-profits and schools, are recognizing dignity’s role in creating inclusive workplaces by recentering their DEI work around dignity. We’re in good company!
For individuals and groups that have suffered from oppression, there has been an ongoing denial of value and worth, a denial of human dignity. In addition, dignity violations can happen to people not in those categories, and in fact, they are experienced to some degree by all of us. It comes from each of us being a human who has vulnerabilities and the ability to make mistakes interacting with other humans with their own vulnerabilities and mistake making. For healing and the building of true community, however, the elements of dignity must be recognized and valued. And when a dignity violation occurs, we need the language and the mechanisms to improve ourselves and our relationships.
We take a portion of every weekly administrator meeting to work on our dignity skills and are meeting in employee groups at least monthly, with journaling and “homework” assignments in between. We are learning how to resist the temptation to complain about a dignity violation and instead build the tools to talk about it with the person responsible. We recognize that this can be more difficult for some people than others and are working to support those who may feel less safe to build toward dignity conversations.
Having a common language and set of strategies is step one, but the next steps are all about our continued commitment to this work and our trust in each other to learn and grow in ways that preserve and promote dignity. Along with dignity conversations, it also requires us to look at policies and practices within our community that promote the value of every member, from student to employee to parent. Dignity work does not take the place of other DEI initiatives; rather, it serves as a foundation for us to continue our exploration and growth around these topics.
I invite you to join us in the work by educating yourself about dignity through reading either of Donna Hicks’ books, Dignity and Leading with Dignity.
Thank you to alumnae Layla Ritterskamp for preparing the 10 Essential Elements document.
With respect and gratitude,
Head of School