Dignity Grounds the Profound

“Wisdom purges our minds of illusion, giving them a substantive dignity while curtailing the sort of dignity that is all empty show.” – Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

Based on this quote one might gather that dignity allows for composure and the ability to act appropriately. It also infers that some kind of knowledge is required in order to sustain such a disposition. Seeing that the text is taken from Seneca’s moral letters, we may conclude that the wisdom he is referring to is grounded in virtue. However, it’s not my wish to play the scholar here, nor give dignity a dignified definition as such, but to shed some light on its nature.

So where in the world can we begin to make sense of what it means to possess human dignity? How about we begin by drawing upon an event from our past or we can create a new scenario. So you’re walking down the street when you notice two young lovers in a nasty fight. The boy is telling his girlfriend that she’s a slut for the way she behaved around his associates. She claims that she was only trying to be nice to his friends out of courtesy. He continues to belittle her while shouting to the top of his lungs.

Without analyzing this tale into smithereens, many of us here would probably agree that the man child wasn’t treating his girlfriend with dignity. In fact, we could say that he was acting rather ‘indignantly’ towards her; i.e., he was angered at something that appeared to him as unjust or wrong. On the other hand, perhaps the young man has ‘just cause’ to question his partner, but that doesn’t mean he has the right to be cruel towards her. Like Seneca, we may conclude that ‘excessive vehemence strips dignity away’.

In light of its origins, dignity seems to be cultivated through virtuous action, as in the result of years and years of character development; of being loyal to our agreements, maintaining transparency & personal integrity, respecting the rights & freedoms of others, doing no harm, remembering to be considerate and kind while remaining true to ourselves, and so forth.

Dignity grounds the ideals by which we maintain a societal foundation that supports ethical principles conducive to human flourishing. Such principles enable ingenuity and progress without losing sight of our historical context by which we can envision and shape our future. In this spirit, here are the 12 gems that I feel ought to be present in order for dignity to be effective in the world at large.

Dignity – Respect – Mercy – Transparency – Integrity – Service – Benevolence – Trust – Expertise – Resoluteness – Sincerity – Patience

My challenge to you is this: Try to find an alternative virtue for each of the 12 gems above. For instance, you may be inclined to use the word ‘compassion’ instead of ‘mercy’, or ‘social justice’ in place of the word ‘dignity’. Either way, please share your response in the comment section.

About Jason Youngman

An explorer of volition and soul, a song under a night sky and a dream that forever yearns to be.
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24 Responses to Dignity Grounds the Profound

  1. Sally says:

    Forbearance , and longsuffering, are alternate words for patience.

    A Dr. without patience will have few patients. 🤗

    • Such terms are simply beautiful! Thank you, Sally, somewhere deep down in my heart while at rest you may hear him whisper a gentle sound, so profound:

      “Patience is said to be the root and safeguard of all the virtues, not as though it caused and preserved them directly, but merely because it removes their obstacles.” – Aquinas

      Feel free to provide more perspectives to these interconnected principles, all of which line up with the 12 gems of Aaron’s Breastplate.

      • Sally says:

        Thanks, Jason. This is really interesting.
        Aquinas is one of my favourites. ⚘

      • Mary Jo Malo says:

        I would be interested in these correspondences!

      • My apologies Mary, but I’m not sure if you’re intentionally addressing the correspondence between Sally and I, or if you are referring to our former dialogue. Either way, I believe you and Sally have some beautiful things in common and would greatly benefit one another should you two choose to cross pollinate your flowers with each other.

      • Mary Jo Malo says:

        Hi, Jason. I was referring to the correspondence between the virtues and the gemstones of Aaron’s breastplate. Sorry I was so vague.

      • Ah, gottcha, I was uncertain as to why you left a message on the correspondence between Sally and myself, rather than our own thread. Thank you for clarifying things.

  2. In many ways, integrity can be seen as consistency. Let’s use a rope as an example. If the rope has integrity, it has no tears or cuts and therefore can be trusted to be useful when needed. If its integrity were compromised by a cut or tear, it may be consistent only to a certain point, and then it would be untrustworthy to use. When people hold a viewpoint or concept that is not consistent across the span of their other beliefs (e.g., being pro-life but anti-welfare, or wanting less government but more stimulus money, etc.), it compromises their integrity in a logical context. Just a thought.

    • Excellent! An ideal analogy. And most fitting for my diagram too; for the chord that binds the 12 gems together, must be of a kind that remains forever; however we come by the golden fleece, once worn around the neck ought to maintain order and peace. Furthermore, consistency possesses a rudimentary fabric indeed, but we mustn’t limit integrity to a singular value, for it also subsumes cohesion, good form and integration of the parts, by which there can be no martial arts.

  3. Anna says:

    Mercy. Grace. I love the scene you painted, all to familiar scene of my youth.

  4. Mary Jo Malo says:

    One part of wisdom which purges our minds and enables the dignity we each desire, is to love our neighbor as ourselves. These twelve virtues perhaps rest on that foundational wisdom. That is, if we are to mutually cultivate dignity among us. The “empty show” is when only I alone am worthy of dignity and everyone else certainly must be impressed. Cultivating these virtues lends dignity to both my neighbor and me.

    • Thank you! My thought exactly! The golden rule as an aspect of the wisdom above, just as each gem/virtue has its foundation in love. Our ability to envision is by no means an empty show, just as code/symbolism enables the intellect to know: The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

  5. Shawn says:

    “Give dignity a dignified definition,” I love it!

    I particularly enjoy the fourth paragraph, where you mention virtuous action, character development and respecting the rights and freedoms of others. Allowing someone their dignity shows us that there’s always a different way to approach a problem or issues that we may face. Take the scenario of the young couple you provided; the man in question could have waited until they were in the privacy of their home to discuss his concerns. He could have also provided alternative terms to validate his concerns as opposed to belittling her in a place where not only others could hear, but using labels against her that, whether accurate or not, are inappropriate. A practiced Buddhist could easily say that this has much to do with how we spread suffering in the world.

    The best part of my Saturdays are seeing your posts, Jason. Keep it up.

    • Thank you, Shawn, your perspective opened my nugget. Might there be other terms within Buddhism that could stand in for the word dignity? So glad you appreciate my weekly posts; writing can be an effective way to embody ones philosophy; unless our beliefs are supported through sound reasoning, even our sense of equanimity can fade into oblivion. On the other hand, if our beliefs become too rigid and imposing, then strict order can become too extreme. Dignity seems to have its home in the middle ground of life.

  6. Shawn says:

    Absolutely, Jason. I can easily describe the Noble Eightfold Path as being appropriate terms: Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Although not singular terms in and of themselves, they can be easily translated into words that encompass dignity: Empathy, Commitment, Kindness and Compassion easily come to mind. All of these are terms would be a definite for someone who genuinely follows the Path and means to carry one’s own, and encourage another’s dignity.

    • Makes good sense to me Shawn, for nobility and dignity go hand in hand; even though the word ‘Noble’ has become somewhat bastardized in our present vernacular, it still holds a dignified composure and vitally important orientation for those who want to actively and conscientiously care for the wellbeing of others. You are probably aware that the historical Buddha had a cousin who was a king. This relationship probably had positive and constructive consequences for the kingdom, which allowed for more dignity or freedom to pursue a spiritual life. Perhaps you could say a few lines about this particular situation?

  7. Patience as tolerance, endurance and composure
    For me personally patience has always seemed a virtue, and we often can see how there is a huge lack of it. I relate patience to a lot of tolerance as I get older. Dignity as all of other features you mention is such a broad aspect, and most likely, different people would have distinct definitions while staying on the same page when thinking about it. However, there are always at least two sides to everything.
    It’s a thought-provoking article.

    • Beautiful! Tolerance, endurance and composure are some of the main ingredients to what many know as fortitude, which also includes courage, yet patience seems to be the unifying force of the mix. Thank you so much for dropping by and sharing your insight with us. Stay in touch!

  8. Shawn says:

    It honestly depends on one’s perspective, I suppose. Zen Buddhism is descendant from Mahayana Buddhism, which teaches that the Gautama Buddha was actually the CHILD of a king. At his birth, it was predicted that if the Buddha stayed in the kingdom, he would become a world ruler. But if he left, he would become a spiritual leader and guide to the world. Siddhartha Gautama chose to leave. But from the perspective of a kingdom with an heir who became a spiritual wanderer with no worldly possessions, it would no doubt humble the kingdom in such a way that they would feel that “if it works for a member of royalty, of course it would work for us.” But nothing is more dignified than surrendering a life of ease and luxury to become a homeless ascetic.

    • An interesting spin all the same! Being a homeless ascetic during such times wasn’t no picnic eh.

      Been putting together a presentation on the famous painting of The Garden of Earthly Delights for this weekend’s blog. There’s nothing to date from your site to give me the impression that you would be all that interested in this as such; however, I believe you can take some ideas away from it that may bolster the aesthetic side of your videos. Bosch’s concept seems pretty much Christian in scope but there’s much more for the imagination if you look at it the right way.

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