“The concept of dignity is very powerful. It both incites and resolves conflict. Dignity is a human species issue. We all yearn for dignity but often do not know how to honour it in others,” said Dr. Donna Hicks, an Associate at the Weatherhead Centre for International affairs, Harvard University where she chairs the Herbert C. Kelman Seminar on International Conflict.
Dr. Hicks has worked extensively on Sri Lanka, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Northern Ireland and Columbia. She has also worked with a major US corporate. She has taught courses in conflict resolution at Harvard and Columbia Universities and her book entitled ‘Dignity: A Key to Restoring Harmony to a Troubled World’ will be published later this year.
Dr. Hicks said this comment on the forth of the Harvard/Pathfinder Foundation Seminar series was held at the American Centre recently and participants included private sector specialist and members of leading research institutions. It was organised by Pathfinder Foundation with the support of the American Centre, which provided the videoconferencing facilities. Dr. Hicks pointed out that honouring dignity is important at all levels: personal lives, communities, workplaces, nations and international relations. Despite this, there is a violation of dignity at all levels on a daily basis, often unknowingly, as the concept of dignity has been poorly researched and understood.
She stressed that there was a need to unite around the concept of treating each individual with dignity, as violations of it gave rise to the worst of what human beings are capable of: violence, hatred, revenge, and righteous justification of the use of aggression to resolve problems.
In her work on conflict resolution, Dr. Hicks found that dignity related issues often created emotional undercurrents that undermine negotiations. They caused deep ingrained psychological hurt, often left unsaid, that hampered reconciliation.
Dr. Hicks stressed the importance of honouring the dignity of each individual for building harmonious personal relationships, organisations and societies.
In her presentation, she identified the following essential elements of dignity which constitute concrete ways to honour the dignity of others: acceptance of identity, inclusion, physical and psychological safety, acknowledgment, recognition, fairness, benefit of the doubt, understanding, independence and accountability. In her view, learning the essential elements is the first step towards extending dignity to others as well as maintaining our own.
Dr. Hicks argued that there is no greater leadership challenge than to lead with dignity. She also contended that there was no such thing as democracy without dignity, nor can there be authentic peace if people are suffering indignities. Given its importance in all aspects of life, Dr. Hicks stressed the importance of educating people on the essential elements of dignity.
The presentation was followed by a lively discussion among the participants from business, academia and civil society. It was pointed out that this approach was very much in line with Lord Buddha’s teachings 2600 years ago and reference was made to the dignity that King Dutugemunu accorded to those he vanquished.
There was also interaction on how the approach could best be adopted in the corporate world and whether hierarchical structures found in many areas of life encourage behaviour that violates dignity. The importance of emotional intelligence in leadership with dignity was explored. In addition, there was a discussion on whether Dr. Hicks’ approach could be used as a model supported by instruments, policies and modalities that created a coherent operational framework. The relevance of this approach to post-conflict situations, like Sri Lanka, was also discussed.