Dignity: A Universal Right

The U. S. Declaration of Independence asserts that “all men are created equal.” Many have struggled with the meaning of that phrase, because it’s obvious that we are unequal in lots of ways, for example, health, wealth, looks, talents, skills, etc. But, our differences need not be an excuse for invidious comparisons, let alone for humiliation and indignity. On the contrary, our differences are an important source of the delight we take in each other.

The Declaration of Independence tasked the nation not only with protecting life and liberty but also with providing fairness and
justice. While people are equal not in their endowments or attainments, they are equal in dignity and must be treated so. What would such a dignitarian society look like?

1. adj. a condition in which the dignity of all people is honored and protected
2. n. a person who advocates for a dignitarian society, one whose conduct and attitudes are dignitarian

Each of us has an innate sense that we have the same inherent worth as anyone else. Every religion teaches us so. We experience this as a birthright – a cosmic fact that cannot be undone by any person, circumstance, institution, or government.

That is why rankism is experienced on the deepest level as an affront to dignity. Like any animal vulnerable to being preyed upon, we're supersensitive to threats to our well-being. We're alert to subtle attempts to determine our relative strength, from “innocent” opening lines such as “Who are you with?” to more probing queries regarding our ancestry or education.

In proclaiming a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the Declaration of Independence touched on making dignity a fundamental right. Liberty means freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control. Therefore, the right to liberty, by militating against rankism, affords a large measure of protection to our dignity. Likewise the right to pursue happiness is meaningless in the absence of the dignity inherent in full and equal citizenship.

Given the remarkable achievements of the identity-based liberation movements, it's not unrealistic to imagine a day when everyone's equal dignity will be as self-evident as everyone's right to own property or to vote.


6 thoughts to “Dignity”

  1. Excellent. Please continue the movement for dignity equal to all human beings. I am a victim of rankism and violation of property rights. I do know what it means and how it disintegrates one self-esteem and self respect and much more.
    You forgot to talk about Family rankism!

  2. Any chance these folks know anything about Unitarian Universalism? UUA.ORG
    And I think that this is important but I think that this has so much to do with cultural racism, sexism, adultism, heterosexism, etc. that it seems like an easy label for all wrong with world and that there is no way to work towards getting rid of all the evils, you can only work on the specific things, which is why I will probably not introduce this “rankism” into my vocabulary.” By no means is it easy to work against institutional or cultural racism, but when you name it as such you can begin the difficult process, and not until then.

  3. Robert Fuller and his fellow dignitarians are really on to something. I believe they are opening minds to see the world differently. At least that’s what I got out of the book “All Rise”. Just having a name, “rankism,” to go with the actions of indignity makes a huge differnce. You begin to see it every where. In sports. In coaching. In schools. In name calling. In the religious realm. In politics. In medical care. And especially in INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS. People(s) are being “nobodied” and the blowback is something we are all having to deal with. But if we can name it, recognize it, open our eyes to it, then we can do something about it. Dignity matters! We should all treat others with the dignity with which we wish they would treat us. And we should instill this way of life in our children by treating them that way. Nobody deserves to be “nobodied”.

  4. “… as everyone’s right to own property, or to vote…” or to choose their own gender, or their form of work, or to just be employed without regard to age, etc…

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