Dr. Seuss famously wrote, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Although he apparently never intended this to be any type of pro-life rallying cry, sometimes the truth resonates with us, even if it is a truth that was revealed for a different end.
I mention this passage for a few reasons. First, abortion has been in the news an awful lot lately. It has kind of been on my mind as well. The tragedy of the procedure itself in addition to the atrocious spectacle of politicians advocating for the murder of young lives has been a lot to take.
That being said though, this is only part of the reason why this phrase has been on my mind lately. Like I said before, it is true. People are people, and no one is less significant than anyone else. This really ought to be rather basic. It certainly doesn’t seem to be too complicated. Each human is endowed with inherent dignity simply by being a member of the human race. There doesn’t need to be any qualification on that statement.
Some people have done really bad things in the past. We all know that. Even though these people undoubtedly have to face the consequences for the decisions that they make and even though justice must be served, there is still the inconvenient truth that these people still are members of our race and therefore deserve a certain level of dignity. It doesn’t mean that they are immune from consequences, but even the worst person in the history of the world maintains the inherent dignity that comes from being human.
We live in a culture that doesn’t seem to always embrace the dignity of human life. I’m not talking about just the obvious value that we ought to place on unborn lives. It really should go without saying that they deserve the respect to not be murdered before they ever take a breath. I’m talking about some of the subtler things that we might not even think about from day to day, but they matter.
Let’s say that you have children. Your children ought to respect you as their parent. That is good. However, you also have to show respect to your children and treat them like people with the dignity they deserve.
You might run a business. Your employees ought to respect your position as their manager or boss. That is good. However, you also have to treat your employees with the dignity they deserve.
It can even be as simple as seeing someone on the street who dropped something on the ground because his or her hands were full. You don’t have to help that person, but there is a certain level of honor or respect that you can show someone when you go out of your way to show them that they have inherent dignity and worth, even as a random stranger.
You may have noticed I shifted the discussion a little bit. You might say that children should respect their parents in an ideal world. However, I don’t know your story. Your parents may have been about the worst people ever. You don’t respect them, but they never gave your reason to respect them in their role as parents.
You might have a job where you don’t feel like you are valuable. You might know it is good to respect your boss, but your boss also needs to step up and lead in a way that inspires you to respect him or her. You don’t respect this person as a boss.
I get it. I have heard stories like these as well. I don’t know where you are coming from today as you are reading this. However, I shifted the discussion because it is really important for us to differentiate between the inherent dignity of human life and dignity in other contexts.
The dignity of human life is given to you by default simply for being alive. We all should have that. You deserve to be treated decently as a human being because you happen to be a human being.
Other types of respect may have to be earned. You want your employees to follow you at work, so you lead in such a way that they respect you. You want your children to be obedient, so you parent in such a way that you earn their respect.
It is really important to differentiate because I think our world has mixed up these types of dignity. We have all but forgotten the inherent dignity that simply should accompany being a member of the human race. Think about how people treat each other. We really are not good to each other. This is not a new problem. Humanity has never gotten along all that well. We fail to recognize that there is a certain level of dignity that every person has, and they are worthy of being treated with respect.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have people who simply expect followers to go along with their whims. They want respect, but they have never done anything to deserve it. Politicians may be the easy example here. There are plenty of people in powerful positions who expect people to follow them everywhere, but they have never done anything in that position. They then get really confused as to why the people are frustrated. They think that they are entitled to a different kind of dignity that goes well beyond the basic level of human dignity.
It is kind of backwards if you think about it. We disregard the one that we should have by default, and we expect the one that has to be earned. However, should we really be surprised? How many times do we fail to appreciate what we have, but we are always trying to get a hold of whatever it is that we don’t have?
A person is still a person, no matter how small. People are not insignificant, no matter where they seem to fall in our meritocratic hierarchy. We measure value on so many other things, but until we get back to this understanding of the fact that inherent human dignity does not have to be earned, we are going to have problems. We are going to be left with people either trying to grab respect they don’t have or trampled underfoot because no one recognizes the inherent dignity that they ought to have simply by being members of the human race.
I guess that is the application then as we go ahead into this week. Consider the role of human dignity. Beyond that, consider what you can do to help develop a culture of dignity and respect. I’m not suggesting that we always have to agree about everything, support everything, affirm everything, but I am suggesting that we have to remember that if we are ever going to solve any of the dilemmas that face us a culture, we are going to have to start from the basics. Start to believe that all people have dignity. Once you get back down, then you will realize what people have earned additional respect in the roles they fulfill. They still have the inherent human dignity, but they also have other positions where they have earned that respect. That is the way ought to be. Let’s work towards that.