Posted: November 28th, 2013
Human Dignity and the Dignity of Life
The terms human dignity and dignity of life are often used interchangeably. It is significant to understand that these two terms were of the approach different aspects and ideologies of life although there is sometimes a thin line between them. In the history of the human being, these two terms may have meant different things to two different groups. If, for example, these two groups were to be labeled the elite and the oppressed groups, the similarities and the differences will be discussed in relation to human dignity and the dignity of life depending on the historical period.
To comprehend and to appreciate the interconnectedness of life, to live and to let live, to value the small things, to die with dignity, amongst others, are the phrases that related to the term the dignity of life. Respect, self worth, equal treatment, necessities of life, integrity, amongst others, come with the term the human dignity (Bonefeld & Kosmas 35). Although these seem quite straight forward and clear, they mean different things to the groups mentioned above.
Some aspects of these two terms are similar to both the elite and the oppressed groups. The freedom to search for the life necessities such as shelter, water, food, social support, just to mention but a few has been evident since man came into being. Man has been known to hunt and cultivate as a way providing food for himself. In the early times, when people used to own slaves, the slaves used to work, and in exchange have food, clothing and shelter provided to them by their masters. The slaves also used to have families, and that is how they multiplied. During the colonial period, the colonialists allowed the colonies to live in groups, go on with their own activities of fending for themselves and keep the normal social life the elite/the colonialists had (Malpas & Norelle 57). Although their social and economic life may not have resembled that of the elite, they still had a life.
The oppressed and the elite groups have been sharing the human dignity concept of believing anything one wants. Since time immemorial, the people have been able to believe what they wanted especially when it came to religious beliefs. In the Roman Empire, slaves still believed in the religion of their ancestral land (Kim 76). Although the missionaries and the colonialists played a significant role in the influence of Christianity in the African community, many Africans still continued with their African practices even after the reign of the colonialists. Today, it is evident that the question of what one believes does not depend on ones social status. People are either influenced by where they have come from (background), where they are or their own understanding. This can be explained by how homosexuals view themselves as oppressed since they are not allowed to fully express themselves in public. In such a case, the elite are the heterosexuals while the oppressed are the bisexuals, homosexuals and the transsexuals
Unfortunately, the significance of such a concept as to live and to let live started being of significance in the late 20th century. The elite considered themselves as the people to decide how long the oppressed would live and how they would die. A master would kill a slave as he wished with not as much as a question from the authorities. A black man would easily end up dead while in the hands of the police without any further investigations of how that came to be (Ugwuanyi 528). A woman would be beaten and finally get killed by the husband without much concern from the family let alone the authorities. Although such actions call for the law’s intervention today, some concerns are still raised on the competence of the investigations being done and the actions taken.
Respect, which is perceived as a form of human dignity, is meant to be respect from others. Unfortunately, when it comes to the elite and the oppressed groups, the elite expect respect from the oppressed, but the oppressed do not expect the same from the elite. In the past, the oppressed, who were mostly the slaves and peasants, did not respect themselves. They felt that their obligation was to serve their masters and the rich in the society (Malpas & Norelle 60). The peasants were referred as third or fourth-class citizens depending on the society. There was the royal family, the extremely rich, the middles class and the peasants.
During periods of slavery, the 19th and the early twentieth century, the whites and the Blacks represented the early elite and the oppressed groups respectively. During that period, the whites were the only people to be respected, to die with dignity, to be shown compassion, to be treated equally and to acknowledge the ambiguity of the world, amongst other concepts. They acknowledged that they had more human and life dignity as compared to the blacks and so they treated them like so.
Although this has slowly been erased from the physical world and the concepts of human dignity and the dignity of life been appreciated by all parties, there are that mental part that still shows discrimination. White dominated countries do not have as many black leaders as the population dictates. Waiters and servers in the African countries will still prefer serving a Caucasian customer faster than a dark-skinned customer will. Many women do not hold leadership positions as their male counterparts. For example, there are only 12 female prime ministers,11 female presidents and 3 queens in the world. This is out of the many countries, and kingdoms we have in the world. It is approximated that 51 to 60 females have either acted as heads of states or been the heads of state after the Second World War. Although human dignity and the dignity of life may not necessarily be entirely responsible for such statistics, the aspects of inequality, empowerment of the marginalized groups and other issues affect the outcome of such statistics.
When it comes to the value of small things as far as dignity of life is concerned, this might mean different things to the elite and the oppressed groups. Due to circumstances, the oppressed people value small things more than the elite do. During the slavery time, something as small as a meal in a day, no matter how small, was extremely appreciated (Ugwuanyi 529). Slaves were sold, and so it was hard to come by slaves either of the same family serving one master or in the same region. This made them value and appreciate one another very much as each was on his or her own. In the African American community during the 18th, the 19th and the early 20th century, family members were the most important, than the friends and neighbors, then the rest of the community. It is the reason why it was common to see a family inclusive of the extended family. This extends to date.
The oppressed such as the poor and the disabled tend to appreciate the small things more than the elite. A beggar on the street appreciates a smile and a quarter more from a stranger more than a chief executive in a company’s office. The rich, even in the past, were not only concerned about one meal, but they were also concerned about the three meals, cooked and served well with wine and fruits as accompaniments. They were also concerned with banquets, balls and other celebrations. Even today, the elite or the rich are first concerned about how the community and the whole society think about them, before they are concerned about how their families perceive them.
Issues exist concerning the human dignity and the dignity of life that can be learnt from our global neighbors and our near ancestors. Our ancestors believed in integrity and the emphasis of it. This is explained by the American Constitution, which was written in the 18th Century, is still followed even today with as few as less than thirty amendments (Bonefeld & Kosmas 67). The founding fathers of the nation believed in integrity, and they acted in ways that portrayed integrity. A more specific example is where most families have something that has been passed on from one generation down to the next generation. It may be a piece of land, an expensive jewelry or a souvenir that was entrusted to the family members by the ancestors.
In the quest for knowledge, the ancestors in the African countries and other countries globally embraced education thus leading to the spread of the literacy all over the world. The ancestors in the colonized states believed that they were dying a dignified death when they died fighting for their countries. This is how countries came to achieve their independence. Whether it is in Asia, Africa, America, Europe or any other continent, people believed and still do in the right to celebrate through dance and music. There is not one single group in the world which did not engage in dance and music especially during celebrations as a way of expressing their joy.
Cultures, communities, administrations, occupations, sharing of knowledge, patriotism, search of prosperity, amongst other concepts were founded by our ancestors. They pursued and passed on from one generation to another, as a way of showing each generation their significance. Neighboring countries in the globe also have a way of showing the values in human dignity and the dignity of life. In Asian countries such as North Korea, China and Japan, a small bow before greeting one another or failing to look once superior directly in the eye is a form of ones respect for another (Kim 75). Countries such as China, Singapore and India are known to value families immensely thus they live in large families. The Maasai of Kenya and other cultures in Africa and Asia still practice their traditional beliefs and wear traditional clothes in appreciation of their culture.
The ancestors and the global neighbors have taught us and continue teaching us the dignity of life and human dignity. The traditional songs sang during the socials gatherings, the recognition of authority where one acknowledges their superior, doing things with integrity; these are ways the ancestors and our neighbors show the significance of human dignity and the dignity of life. It is agreed that the morality ethical issues are of more concern today than they were a few years back. Children are more rude and disrespectful to their parents today that they were some time in the early twentieth century.
Every individual has a right to experience human dignity or dignity of life whether by offering or by receiving. Our ancestors, global neighbors and time have taught us the significance of these two terms. They are what keep people together and protects the human race from itself. If the human race decides to go against the concepts that come along with these two terms, they will drive themselves into extinction.
Bonefeld, Werner & Kosmas Psychopedis. Human dignity: social autonomy and the critique of capitalism. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2005. Print.
Kim, Hyung-Kon. The Idea of Human Dignity in Korea: An Ethico-Religious Approach and Application. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2007. Print.
Malpas, Jeff, and Norelle Lickiss. Perspectives on Human Dignity: A Conversation. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2007. Print.
Ugwuanyi, Chikere. “Book Reviews: Towards a Fuller Human Identity: a Phenomenology of Family Life, Social Harmony, and the Recovery of the Black Self. by Pius Ojara.” The Heythrop Journal. 49.3 (2008): 527-532. Print.
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