Saturday, April 24, 2021

Seeking Definition: Final Attempt

        For many years I thought about dignity, investigated it, explored its use in my times.

       Then one year, I discovered my personal definition of dignity. It was specific and useful.

       At the time, I was working at a job I loved: staff development coordinator for teachers. I thought of myself as the supply line, getting valuable resources to people in the trenches: teachers in classrooms. I often heard from teachers that they spent most of their work days without seeing or speaking to another adult, so when they asked me for help, I smiled, greeted them cheerfully, listened closely.

       During my time at this job, education was changing rapidly. Cooperative learning, non-gender based mathematics, and personal learning plans for special needs kids: all these were suddenly being expected of every teacher. Part of my job was to keep up with these changes, which meant constant learning. My brain reveled in the excitement of this challenge. I also communicated with teachers about these changes: sending them to workshops, speaking at their staff meetings, connecting them with other teachers.

       This, absolutely, was my favorite job of all time. Every  morning, when I woke up and put my feet on the floor beside my bed, I thanked every lucky star that I was getting paid to have so much fun, and make a positive difference for teachers in my community.

       Then, our state passed a bill harshly limiting taxation. School districts were facing reduced revenues. Many budget items, including staff development, were deemed unnecessary. I was facing the end of the job I loved.

       In fact, I knew for many months that I would be laid off.

       As I faced that prospect, day after day, I realized I couldn't change the circumstances of my lay-off, but I had control over myself. What did I want to do, and how did I want to be treated?

       First, I wanted to know what was happening. How was the new law actually affecting school districts? What budget discussions were being held at my organization? Were there other options for employment for me? Some days, honestly, I wanted to hide my head under a pillow and ignore everything. But those times were fewer than my craving for information.

       Second, I wanted to speak out about this situation. Although I complained to friends and family (one way of speaking out), I didn't complain at work. Twice, I spoke to the Board of Director of my organization, which was made up of 14 school superintendents, only one of which was a woman. It was an intimidating body, but I reminded them of the good work I had done and would continue to do on behalf of their teachers. I asked repeatedly to be kept in their budgets.

       Third, denied the possibility of keeping my job, I wanted some control over how I would leave it. Being an optimist, I wanted to believe that someone else might hold that job in the future. With that unknown person in mind, I threw nothing away, but rather "wrapped up" my job, like a "present" to the future: carefully filing all my projects, labeling all the boxes, storing them with my own hands. I attended every meeting that I had always attended and gave final reports and a few tips on new education advancements.

       I kept thinking that I wanted to be treated with dignity; with that feeling from the Christian Science Monitors I had reviewed.

       How would I know if I was being treated with dignity during that painful time? As Wikipedia indicates, it's great to talk about, but not easily described.

       Based on what I wanted (see above), I came up with these criteria for myself: voice, choice and information.

       If I was given these elements while going to final meetings, boxing up of files and turning in paperwork, then I could assume I was treated with dignity and leaving my favorite job would not hurt quite so bad.

       I had finally found a working definition for the word "dignity" that matched the tone I had discovered in the Christian Science Monitor newspapers all those years before.

       Could I use this definition beyond that time of stress?

 


 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Seeking Definition: Fifth Attempt

        Still seeking a definition for "dignity", the tone I found in the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, I turned to Wikipedia, not expecting much, actually.

       Wikipedia has a mixed reputation, doesn't it? Many folks see it as simplistic, others see it as plebian, still others see it as confrontational.

       The original encyclopedias that it has replaced, were based on an assumption that the articles should be written by paid, credentialed experts. This gave those articles an aura of superiority, because people of "superior" scholarship were writing the articles.

       According to Richard Cooke, in his vast, informative and fun article about Wikipedia in WIRED Magazine, March 2020, the articles in the 1965 Britannica were "mostly high quality and high minded". He also says, "Almost all the articles are authored by white men, and some were already 30 years out of date when they were published." Also, of course there was the problem that those encyclopedias were printed on paper, thus creating an automatic limitation on the number of articles and the word counts.

       By contrast, according to Cooke, Wikipedia is a place for "enthusiasts", people who love a topic, know way more than everyone else in their neighborhood about it (think railroad fanatics who dash out the door of their home when they hear a new train whistle), and want to share their knowledge in a public venue. Cooke says,

… Wikipedia has eccentricity, elegance and surprise in abundance, especially in those moments when enthusiasm becomes excess and detail is rendered so finely (and pointlessly) that it becomes beautiful.

        Wikipedia is not built on superior knowledge or credentials of anyone. According to Cooke, it "is built on the personal interests and idiosyncrasies of its contributors. You could even say it is built on love."

       Wow! An interesting replacement for those out-of-date, hoity-toity, limited-by-printing-technology encyclopedias.

       I love using Wikipedia because it is quick, has articles about almost everything I search for, and often takes me down rabbit holes (the "surprising" Cook mentions), usually ending with poisonous frogs in the Amazon jungle.

       Therefore, searching this online source for the meaning of a word was an automatic action for me.

       Here's what I found:

Dignity is the right of a person to be valued and respected for their own sake, and to be treated ethically. It is of significance in morality, ethics, law and politics as an extension of the Enlightenment-era concepts of inherent, inalienable rights. The term may also be used to describe personal conduct, as in "behaving with dignity".

        (Interestingly, the Wikipedia article claimed that there is not a complete definition:

"There is also a long history of special philosophical use of this term. However, it is rarely defined outright in political, legal, and scientific discussions. International proclamations have thus far left dignity undefined, and scientific commentators, such as those arguing against genetic research and algeny, cite dignity as a reason but are ambiguous about its application.")

      Whoa! This is a big shift from the "official of rank" definition from 1933.

       In this definition, no rank is mentioned, and no dignitaries make an appearance.

       Rather like Wikipedia, the definition of "dignity" has come to apply to us masses. We all have dignity, and dignity is a way of treating every single one of us with respect.

       With this definition, I felt that I had discovered the base note of the tone I discovered when reading through those copies of the Christian Science Monitor.

       However, I was seeking that final answer, which Wikipedia did not provide: What exactly does "dignity" mean, and how do I recognize it?

 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Seeking Definition: Fourth Attempt

 I was on a quest. After looking through many issues of the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, I detected a specific tone which I described with the word "dignity".

            I began a search to discover the definition of that word and if I was using the correct word for the tone. Previous posts on this blog show the dictionaries I searched through. The last was a search online in the Cambridge Dictionary.

            Knowing that the Oxford Dictionary is considered a core source of information about the English language, I went to Lexico, their online dictionary source.

            Dignity

1.      The state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.

‘a man of dignity and unbending principle’

A. A composed or serious manner or style.

‘he bowed with great dignity’

2.      A sense of pride in oneself; self-respect.

             ‘it was beneath his dignity to shout’

 3.      A high or honorable rank or position.

             ‘he promised dignities to the nobles in return for his rival's murder’

        In this definition, "dignity" is still linked to behavior: serious manner, worthy of honor.

       The second definition is about self-respect, a big solid change from the previous sources I looked at. I especially liked the part about "pride in oneself". This was getting closer to that tone I had detected in the Monitor.

       This definition still mentions rank, but it is the third definition, not the first. Do dictionaries rate their definitions by usage? Had this definition truly become less common?

       I was not satisfied. I had chosen the word "dignity" on purpose, and I still didn't have a good reason. What was I actually looking for?

 


 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Seeking Definition: Third Attempt

       I had discovered the tone of  "dignity" in the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, but I couldn't seem to find a definition that fit with the tone I had identified or with my own gut feeling.

       I turned to an online dictionary: Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press.

       Dignity:

1.      calm, serious, and controlled behavior that makes people respect you:

He is a man of dignity and calm determination.

She has a quiet dignity about her.

I think everyone should be able to die with dignity.

 

  1. the importance and value that a person has, that makes other people respect them or makes them respect themselves:

 How could you wear something so indecent? Have you no dignity?

In the hospital, she felt stripped of all her dignity.

He longs for a society in which the dignity of all people is recognized.

 

  1. the quality of a person that makes him or her deserving of respect, sometimes shown in behavior or appearance:

 Laws of privacy are designed to protect the dignity of individuals.

       This definition emphasizes behavior: calm, serious, quiet. This is much closer to what I think of for "dignity", but again, I confess, I'm not always this well behaved, and I'm not sure the Monitor is telling me to do this.

       Also, in this definition, there is an emphasis on "respect". This was not in previous definitions. Hmm. A slight shift: here dignity and respect are assumed for everyone, and I see the first mention of "self-respect".

       Finally, in this definition, there is no mention of rank or office.

       This definition feels a lot closer to my personal definition of "dignity".

       The tone of the Monitor was much closer to this definition than the previous, older ones. Still, I did not choose "respect" as the overall tone, I chose "dignity".

       Did I choose the wrong word?

Saturday, March 27, 2021