Dignity can be characterized as an individual’s innate right to be valued, respected, and ethically treated.
It is generally associated with notions of personal worth, honor and self-esteem (McCrudden, 2008; Nussbaum, 2009) and points to the intrinsic worth of each human being. As such, it serves as the cornerstone for human rights (Gilabert, 2019).
Dignity for the elderly and minority groups is particularly important because these are categories of people who are at risk of exploitation.
The following examples reflect some commonly-held ideas about what it means to live a dignified life and how respect for human dignity can underpin our conceptions of individual rights, minority rights, and the natural rights of all humans.
1. Standing Up For Oneself
Sometimes, we need to be assertive to maintain our own dignity. If someone is showing us disrespect or violating our rights, speaking up and standing up for ourselves is an assertion of our own human dignity. The important part, however, is in respecting the human dignity of others when standing up for ourselves so we don’t come across as hypocrites.
2. Assisting Elders
As we age, it becomes harder for us to look after ourselves. Some elderly people have memory lapses or chronic diseases that prevent them from being able to look after ourselves. As a society, we need to respect the human dignity of our grandparents, parents, and elders, by assisting them when they need that help to maintain a comfortable living.
3. Respect at Workplace
It is the responsibility of leadership in a workplace to set in place a workplace culture that places dignity above all. This might include setting rules around professional behavior and respectful communication, but also leading through example.
4. Fair Judgement
In a court setting, a judge needs to respect the dignity of the people in their courtroom by maintaining an impartial stance when addressing the defendant, upholding safety in the space, and ensuring everyone’s legal rights are upheld.
5. Fair Trial
Democratic societies uphold human dignity by ensuring that everyone gets a fair trial. This is reflected in the refrain: “innocent until proven guilty.” It’s important that everyone gets their day in court and has the chance to defend themselves, present their point of view, and be fairly judged by an impartial and well-trained judge.
6. Standards of Cleanliness
Whether it’s in a retirement home, group home, school, prison, or any other environment, dignity means ensuring people can live in a space that is clean and won’t make them sick. For example, there are many reports of nursing homes being shut down because of their poor health standards, which we as a society refuse to accept.
7. Patient Autonomy
Autonomy is regularly associated with dignity. If we don’t have the autonomy to make our own decisions, then we don’t have our human rights. For example, a physician must inform their patient of all the necessary details regarding their treatment before the treatment begins, so the patient can give consent.
8. Fair Wage for a Day’s Work
Unions exist in order to uphold the dignity of workers, given that individual workers (especially low-wage or unskilled) have minimal power in the capitalist system. One of the most important functions of unions is to advocate for a fair wage, preventing labor exploitation and mistreatment of the working-class by the capitalist class.
9. Privacy Protection
In the 21st Century, when sensitive digital data is transmitted online every second, consumers are increasingly asserting their right to digital privacy. Companies are expected to respect user privacy because we have the right to know who’s using our data and for what purposes.
10. Protecting Animal Rights
Animal rights activists also argue that animals deserve a certain level of dignity. And this doesn’t just extend to vegetarians. Even many meat-eaters believe that animals should be treated well while their alive. We can uphold this by, for example, only purchasing pasture-raised meat and free-range eggs.
11. Upholding Disability Rights
Under the social model of disability, society upholds that disabled people have the same rights as non-disabled people, they should have equal rights to public participation, and should not be discriminated against for their disabiliries. As a result, many societies insist that public and private service providers have a duty to make reasonable accommodations to ensure that they can take part in daily activities without facing unnecessary obstacles.
12. Providing Affordable Housing
Some people may argue that everyone has the right to a place they can call home. If you hold this belief, then you may believe that it’s society’s responsibility to ensure the provision of cost-effective housing. We may not all agree on this, but it’s likely that most of us agree that living on the streets does not cohere with our idea of full human dignity.
13. Providing Quality Education
In recent decades, there has been a strong push for the promotion of girls’ education in the developing world, with the idea that education for girls is a matter of girls’ dignity. Ideally, we should all have the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge that can open up opportunities everyone to lead fulfilling lives.
14. Dignity In Healthcare
All patients deserve to be treated with respect and compassion when they seek medical help. This means that all efforts should be made to preserve the dignity of patients. Interestingly, doctors generally see this as a duty to care for everyone who seeks help – even people who are criminals or enemies at war.
15. Anti-Discrimination Policies
Implementing anti-discrimination policies in workplaces, educational institutions and within different sectors of society uphold dignity. Such policies ensure each individual is treated fairly and respected regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or other distinguishing features.
16. Preserving Cultural Heritage
The preservation and promotion of cultural heritage is a mark of respect and recognition of the dignity of different cultures. This involves efforts to maintain cultural practices, languages, monuments, rituals and even traditional knowledge systems. We see, for example, in colonized nations, that societies believe in protecting Aboriginal and First Nations cultural artifacts.
Similarly, First Nations and Aboriginal people believe it is a matter of dignity that they have the option to determine their own futures rather than have laws passed for them by governments. As a result, we seeing the USA and Canada that tribal lands have been returned to the traditional owners, and to some extent, they can pass their own laws and not have to obey some state laws on their territories.
18. Free Speech and Expression
The ability to express oneself freely, without the danger of censorship, is considered a respected natural right by enlightenment philosophers like John Rawls and Adam Smith. If we censor people for their beliefs, we are undermining their rights to their own thoughts and beliefs, and their rights to express those beliefs.
19. Supporting Vulnerable Groups
To foster a dignified society, support must be extended towards vulnerable groups and minority groups. This includes providing targeted support towards refugees, war-torn communities, and economically disadvantaged areas, with initiatives aimed at restoring or securing their dignity.
20. Internet Access for All
In our growing digital world, having access to reliable internet is becoming increasingly important for maintaining dignity. This can enable individuals to connect with others, access important services, gain education, and even find job opportunities.
21. End of the Death Penalty
The abolition of the death penalty upholds human dignity by recognizing the fundamental right to life. With the discontinuation of this practice, societies affirm the view that no matter the crime committed, every human life is valuable and irreversible punishments should be avoided.
The legalization of euthanasia in some cultures is viewed as a method of upholding human dignity. By enabling individuals who are terminally ill or experiencing intolerable suffering to choose a respectful and peaceful end to their life, respect for individual autonomy is upheld.
23. Inclusive Hiring Practices
Implementing inclusive hiring practices promotes diversity and equality in the workplace. By ensuring opportunities are open to all, irrespective of race, gender, age, or disabilities, organizations can create a conducive environment, encouraging respect and fostering self-worth among employees.
24. Child Rights
Protection of child rights is an affirmation of their dignity. By guaranteeing their right to education, preventing child labor, and ensuring their safety, we can safeguard their innocence and provide them with a conducive environment for growth and development.
25. Right to Clean Water and Sanitation
Everyone has the right to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. This basic human right upholds dignity by allowing individuals to maintain their physical health and personal hygiene, essential for a decent standard of living.
26. Food Security
Providing individuals with reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food upholds dignity. Food insecurity can lead to malnutrition and a host of related health issues, compromising individual and societal wellbeing.
27. Freedom From Torture
Prohibiting torture and cruel, inhumane treatments protects a person’s dignity. Everyone has the right to be free from such degrading treatment, regardless of the situation, even during times of conflict or war.
28. Access to Legal Services
Ensuring every person’s right to access legal services upholds dignity. This allows even those from disadvantaged backgrounds to fight for their rights, protect their interests, and seek justice when wronged.
29. Disaster Relief
Provision of immediate and effective help in disaster-stricken areas respects human dignity. By offering essential resources like food, shelter, and medical aid, we can alleviate suffering and restore hope and dignity to those affected.
30. Consumer Rights
The protection and respect for consumer rights upholds dignity. By providing accurate information, safe products, and fair treatment in the marketplace, consumers can make informed decisions, and have their interests safeguarded.
31. Right to Personal Safety
Individuals have an inherent right to feel and be safe in their environments. This involves measures in place for individual protection against violence, bullying, harassment, and other forms of harm that can compromise their security and dignity.
32. Freedom of Religion
The freedom to practice and observe one’s religious beliefs without fear of reprisal or persecution, reflects respect for personal dignity. This not only includes practicing religious rituals, but also the right to change or not to follow any religious tradition at all.
33. Freedom of Movement
This principle affirms that individuals should have the liberty to move freely within their country of residence or to travel to another. It acknowledges the basic rights of individuals to self-determine their domicile towards upholding their personal dignity.
34. Right to Marry
Every adult has the right to marry and start a family, regardless of their gender, race, or religion. This right acknowledges the fundamental human desire for companionship and familial bonds, essential for individual happiness and dignity.
35. Right to Seek Asylum from Persecution
The right to seek asylum and find refuge in a foreign land in the face of persecution is key to maintaining human dignity. It offers hope and protection to those facing dire circumstances, ensuring they are safeguarded from harm and have the opportunity for a secure future.
36. Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
Every individual has the right to not be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention. Law enforcement should always have clear, legitimate reasons for arresting or detaining a person, and due process should be followed to maintain the individual’s dignity.
37. Freedom of Thought
The freedom to think independently and form one’s own opinions contributes significantly to personal dignity. It promotes intellectual growth and stands as a cornerstone of individual autonomy, fostering creativity, innovation, and personal transformation.
Gilabert, P. (2019). Human dignity and human rights. Oxford University Press, USA.
Nussbaum, M. C. (2009). Hiding from humanity: Disgust, shame, and the law. Princeton University Press.
McCrudden, C. (2008). Human dignity and judicial interpretation of human rights. European Journal of international Law, 19(4), 655-724.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]