No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my d-i-g-n-i-t-y . . .
wailed Whitney. And in the end they didn’t. She managed to do that all by herself.

Just like we all do, or don’t. Our dignity is ours to nurture or to dispose of, nobody else’s. Whatever life throws at us, we have a choice as to how we deal with it – with dignity or with indignity.

Dignity. It can conjure up social aloofness, refined manners and good breeding (whatever that is). We associate it with the elite in the Upstairs-Downstairs of our so-called class-less society. But those below can fiercely protect and demonstrate their dignity in adversity more than those above with their cosseted lives.

Dignity. Dylan warbled on about it in his rambling ballad of that name –

Searchin’ high, searchin’ low
Searchin’ everywhere I know
Askin’ the cops wherever I go
Have you seen dignity?

If you believe Whitney, nobody can take it away from you. But if you believe Bob, there isn’t much of it around. A rare and precious commodity for sure. Something to hang on to for sure

So what is this thing called dignity?

First of all I think it is something which can be maintained independently of our circumstances, social standing, income and treatment by others. Terry Waite, beaten and chained to a radiator in Lebanon kept his dignity, as did John McCarthy and Brian Keenan (read their books). A prisoner can keep his dignity whilst those around – his kidnappers – lose theirs – irrespective of the nobility of the cause they purport to be fighting for. A boy being bullied can have more dignity than his bullies. There is absolutely no dignity in carrying out violence, rape, extortion, fraud or torture. That is simply abuse and it dehumanises all those who perpetrate it.

Those on the receiving end of the most horrendous crimes and tragedies can sometimes exhibit a staggering amount of dignity. And this is not about keeping a stiff upper lip; it is about bravely holding onto self-respect in the most trying of circumstances.

Few of us, fortunately, have to suffer such extreme trials. But many of us have been the victims of bullying, neglect, assault, insensitivity, exploitation, deception or robbery. They may gain the upper hand, the power or the profit, but we can keep something immeasurably more valuable – a clear conscience, earned by refusing to play them at their own game.

Dignity. It is about honestly doing the right thing whilst all others are doing the wrong thing. Particularly, when doing the wrong thing would be easy, less painful, option – the line of least resistance. The people who do the right things, the tough thing, the courageous thing are our heroes. We can become our own hero when we keep our dignity.

Few of us would like our deeds re-played on a large screen in front of our friends; never mind our words and – heaven forbid – our thoughts and our intentions. We would, I am sure, be embarrassed if not mortified. The indignity would be awful.

So we become quite adept at hiding our secrets, even from ourselves as we cleverly compartmentalise and rationalise them in our own minds. If you will excuse a few clichés; dignity is about being able to hold our head high, sleep at night and look ourselves in the mirror. Hard as it may be to do all three at the same time

Dignity. It is about being true to ourselves. It is about being the person we are, not mimicking someone else who appears more successful or powerful.

We can easily become impersonators when we are under pressure. Training courses encourage us to mirror the style of powerful people. Sit as they sit, act as they act. Match arrogance with arrogance, aggression with aggression, stripy blue shirt with stripy blue shirt.

This is not being true to ourselves. Nor is it likely to prevail. When an aggressive person shouts at me, shouting back is unlikely to work. They will just shout louder, and they are better at it than I am, because they have been practicing for longer. I should stick to what I am good at – being the reasonable, calm and collaborative. Keep my dignity (shouting is rarely dignified) and play to my strengths, not the other guy’s.

We really are better at being ourselves than being anyone else. And we are much better at being ourselves than anyone else is. SO lets be ourselves. And in being so maintain our precious dignity.

Dignity. There is little of it in our newspapers. This is self-fulfilling. People losing their dignity is news. Big people losing their dignity is big news. So many fall from grace due to their own immorality, weakness or addictions – Whitney sadly being one of the latest in a never-ending line. Maybe we would be the same if we lived under the impossible searchlight of the media.

We are encouraged to promote ourselves, make money, be popular, be successful. How unethically, immorally or ruthlessly we achieve this seems almost irrelevant. Succeed at all costs is the media mantra, whilst selling papers on the back of the inevitable failure of those who appear to do so.

But it is a pyrrhic and hollow victory which is earned at the expense of others or by bending the rules (cheating). And we know it. However much we dress it up and deny it, we let ourselves down when we do it.

A balloon boy takes a drawing pin to balloon school one day with inevitable results. He is called in front of the balloon headmaster to be admonished. “Boy, you have let me down, you have let your school down, and most disappointingly of all, you have let yourself down”

We let ourselves down when we lose our dignity. We feel – rightly – deflated.

So many roads, so much at stake
So many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take
To find dignity

Nil desperandum Bob. It’s out there, or more accurately it is in there. For it is a humble virtue, usually secreted in people’s heads and conscience. In people who keep their dignity – not by being heroes – but by doing the right thing and being true to themselves.


I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows. If I fail, if I succeed, at least I’ll live as I believe. No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.

After all . . learning to love yourself, it is the g-r-e-a-t-e-s-t love of all.

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