Paging George Bailey
Let's make better citizens
We are having a young George Bailey moment.
Thinking big, wanting to do more, but being buffeted by the circumstances of the moment, and the consequences of others’ actions, whether intentional or circumstantial.
I do not believe that we are at the bridge, in despair, ready to test the icy waters. We haven’t yet figured out the solution, but we have identified the problem: we are beset by a confederation of Mr. Potters, seeking domination and dominion over all, even when they have enough
We are in the midst of a live civics tutorial, with more and more people adding their voices and votes to express their dissatisfaction with our social, economic and electoral dysfunction. And the real harm that inaction is wreaking.
Change comes slowly…then all at once (apologies Ernest Hemingway.) It is incontrovertible that life in the US is becoming more and more difficult for large swaths of the population. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Mr. Potter called the working class folk “discontented lazy rabble.” A sentiment that sounds familiar nearly 80 years later, albeit writ larger and multicultural.
"Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them." - Aristotle
George Bailey spoke for all of us when he responded that the “rabble” did most of the “working and paying and living and dying.” That they deserved respect and dignity. That making basic necessities attainable made them “better citizens” among other things. “People [are] human beings…”
When people begin to ignore human dignity, it will not be long before they begin to ignore human rights. ‒ Gilbert K. Chesterton
Is this what we have collectively lost sight of…our dignity and humanity?
But what is dignity? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that the concept has evolved over centuries, and became more defined after World War II:
“Four broad categories of meaning stand out across context and history:
Dignity as Gravitas: a poise or grace associated with behavioral comportment; e.g., the sophisticated manners or elegant speech of nobility, or outward composure in the face of insult or duress.
Dignity as Integrity: the family of ideas associated with living up to personal or social standards of character and conduct, either in one’s own eyes or the eyes of others.
Dignity as Status: noble or elevated social position or rank.
Dignity as Human dignity: the unearned worth or status that all humans share equally (either inherent or constructed).”
It is the latter, #4, that has become the most settled modern definition. It defines not a state of being or a characteristic, but an essential right inherent to us all.
As we wrangle about policies and tactics we too often seem to be leaving the humanity out of our conversations. And too often it seems intentional. We are dehumanizing and othering those who are different and have different opinions, wants and needs.
"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world ... Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere." - Eleanor Roosevelt
What can we do to focus our conversations on human elements and impacts? What does it mean to be human, literally?
Some say the word “human” is derived from Latin: “Humus,” meaning earth or soil. As does humility. Be it ever so humble = grounded.
Is this so, and if so, so what?
To be continued…
"Out of the chaos, the future emerges in harmony and beauty." - Emma Goldman