What you seek is seeking you
When people begin to ignore human dignity, it will not be long before they begin to ignore human rights. ‒ Gilbert K. Chesterton
Dignity. It sure seems in short supply. In the workplace for many, and certainly in much of our public dialogue.
The free-for-all of online interaction has led to a coarsening of discourse in many ways. If you type into Google “social media and social disorder” more than one-half billion results pop up in .62 seconds. Clearly it’s a subject that is generating a load of attention and study. But it goes beyond just talk or text.
Is dignity itself - the inherent right of a person to be valued and respected - dead? If not, why are so many treating each other so awfully, and seeming deliberately so? How do we reclaim, nay demand, our right to be treated well? Mutual respect, after all, is the foundation for a civil and fair society.
As Sufi poet Rumi advised his seekers: “Whatever you want, ask it of yourself. Whatever you’re looking for can only be found inside of you.” Thucydides wrote a couple of millennia ago, “Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”
Self-control, self-respect, and courage are hard for many of us to muster when we are in the best of physical and mental states. And when well-being is not practiced, encouraged and promoted, it becomes a nearly impossible hill to climb. It is harder still when societal customs and norms work against us. It gets us to where many are today: looking up from an deep well of dissatisfaction, disaffection, distrust and disrespect. A vicious cycle of bad words and deeds.
Tales of disrespect and people acting badly abound. Service workers of all stripes have abandoned the workforce, studies say, because they are treated badly by customers and managers alike, and not paid what they feel they are worth.
In a 2018 essay on “The Respect Deficit,” which was written before the Pandemic and the workplace and social unrest of 2020, Richard Reeves writes: “Respect cannot be commanded vertically from above. It has to be generated horizontally, daily, by each of us.” He also notes the role economic inequality plays in the fraying of our social fabric, “The economic gap becomes an empathy gap, which becomes a respect gap.”
This is where for-profit organizations and governmental entities can learn from non-profits. Most non-profits (like small businesses) do not offer the biggest pay packages, the best benefits or the cushiest workplaces, but they have more highly engaged and motivated stakeholders (paid, unpaid and donor) than their profit-driven counterparts. Why? They serve a higher purpose.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Peter Drucker noted: “As a rule, nonprofits are more money-conscious than business enterprises are. They talk and worry about money much of the time because it is so hard to raise and because they always have so much less of it than they need. But nonprofits do not base their strategy on money, nor do they make it the center of their plans, as so many corporate executives do. “The businesses I work with start their planning with financial returns,” says one well-known CEO who sits on both business and nonprofit boards. “The nonprofits start with the performance of their mission.”’
The mission of most non-profits is to promote a change and/or address an unmet need. They seek outcomes that create progress for individuals and communities. They serve others and the missions are usually focused on service above self; on achieving a greater good. At Habitat, we help lower-income families traditionally shut out of the housing market to build and finance their own homes, creating a path out of poverty for many. Our work is done predominantly by community volunteers.
Volunteering at a local non-profit or community organization is one path to opening new vistas and dialogues and providing others with dignity by offering a hand up, not a hand out. The more we can come together in the service of each other the more empathy we will create and respect we will gain and generate.
“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle said. Let’s do more of this.