Author: Clifford Martis

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We use the word ‘Dignity’ often. But if we have to explain what exactly is meant by dignity we may have to think and search for a proper explanation of this concept. There are some words and concepts which can be explained and understood only by suitable examples. Sometimes we understand the meaning of such concepts on explaining what they stand for. On some rare occasions we try to see the opposite of such words in order to understand the meaning of such words.

The word dignity has come from the Latin dignitas meaning worth, nobility. Solemnity, decorum, honor etc In Hindi we say Garima, Bhavyatha, Prathishta. In Kannada we say Ganbheerya, antastu. We can understand the meaning of all these concepts if we see a few examples.

Let me invite you to recall the incident in the Bible. A group of angry people brought a woman to Jesus Christ with the complaint that she was found committing adultery. Christians consider Jesus to be the son of God. The people wanted Jesus to punish the woman but more than that they wanted to put Jesus to the test. Jesus remained dignified and asked them, “What does your law (Law of Moses) say?” They replied, “Our law says that we should stone her to death” Again Jesus remained quite dignified and said, “Very well. Let the one who has not committed any sin throw the first stone” The people looked at one another and slowly left the place one by one. Not a single person remained. Jesus looked at the woman and said, “Hasn’t anyone condemned you?” “No, my Lord” said the woman. “Neither do I. Go and sin no more”

What a wonderful way in which Jesus acted. He didn’t get angry either with the woman or with the people who were so much excited. He spoke quietly without getting worked up or raising his voice. He didn’t blame either the crowd or the woman. He could have said, “If your law says stone her, do it. Why are you telling me?” Very quietly, very softly he solved the problem and taught a lesson to the people and the woman. I feel that this is a very great example of dignity.

Jesus is the son of God. So he could behave in such a great dignified manner. But what about common people like you and me? Do we behave in such dignified manner especially when we are wronged or when we face complicated problems?? Let me tell you an incident which happened in our office. An officer (who was a hard working person) became was upset about some issue. He went on grumbling and complaining and then he entered the chamber of the Head of the Department and spoke very excitedly to him about that matter. He went on blaming and condemning. The HOD remained quiet. He did try to make the officer cool down but the man would not listen. In fact the more the HOD tried the greater was the officer’s excitement. He even threw the file on the HOD’s table. The HOD got up, put on his coat (those were the coat days) and said, “My friend I know that you are a heart patient. Therefore I do not want to argue with you. I have an important appointment and I have to go” So saying he left his Chamber (This incident actually happened. I was present, but the Officer was so excited that I could not try to calm him down. But I admire the HOD’s dignified behavior)

Let me tell you an incident when I was a boy (say 8 years). Some friends came home and we decided to play a game known as “Seven Tiles” There were fine new tiles stored near my house. I broke one fine tile, made seven pieces and we played “Seven Tiles” After my friends left my father called me and told me that I did a wrong thing in breaking the tile. It was a fine new tile which could have been used. He also added that he did not tell me about this in the presence of my friends, lest I should feel humiliated.

In the Ramayana we learn that Lord Rama had to go to exile (Vanavasa) due to a vow made by his father to his mother. When the time came for Rama to go people persuaded him not t go. But Rama was determined to keep his father’s word. Valmiki, the author of the Epic says, Raahghu kula reethi sada chali aaye, Pran jaye par vachan na jaye” (The tradition of the Raghu dynasty is going on. Life may be lost but promise will not go). Here again no shouting, no blaming anyone, no arguments but simple dignified compliance of a vow.

Once a woman went to a holy man and begged of him to advise her little son to give up his bad habit of eating jaggery all the time. The holy man asked the woman to go back and come after one week. During her second visit the holy man simply advised the boy not to eat jaggery and spoil his health. The woman asked very respectfully, “Swami, if this is all that you had to advise my son you could have done it on the first occasion itself, no? May I know why you asked me to go and return again after one week?” The man said, ”Sister I had the same bad habit as your son. I could not advise him to give up the habit as long as I had the problem. So I took a week’s time during which I got rid of the habit. Now I find myself able to advise your son” Isn’t the Swami’s action an example of dignity?

Though dignity is a serious matter I would like to mention a joke which has something to do with this concept. On one occasion a newly recruited army officer noticed that a cadet did not salute him. So he ordered the cadet to salute him thousand times. A very senior officer of the Army was passing by. He saw what was happening. When he was told what the matter was he said, “Good. Very good. But don’t forget you have to return every salute he gives.” This shows us that dignity can give serious solutions and also make use a little bit of humor also.

One more idea about dignity. My son is a doctor in the USA. He is getting older and older but he is not yet marred. We have been persuading him a lot. Finally one day I told him, “Look here son. Getting married or not is your prerogative. You may marry whenever you like and whomsoever you like. No need to get my approval. But I make a very small request. “Please marry a girl”

Dignity is a noble concept but many people make use of the term for wrong purposes. Some people make use of the concept of dignity in order to justify their ego. Some others make use of the concept to cover their faults.

After going through the above examples we can say that dignity means looking at matters without getting excited. Thinking deeply about the issues involved, giving due respect to other people involved in the situation, maintaining our self respect even in the face of provocation and trying to decide matters in a broad, rational, realistic, helpful, succinct manner.

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