Seventy years ago, the founders of the United Nations put our understanding of our shared humanity on paper with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Recognition of the inherent dignity ... of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”, began the Declaration. It affirmed dignity as an antidote to the inequality, intolerance and injustice that had led to two devastating world wars.
We face many of the same divisions today. Conflicts over borders, religions, politics, race and gender continue to plague us. Some would say increasingly so. Seven decades on, it’s time to revisit the powerful, transformative concept of dignity set forth in the Declaration, and empower young people to embrace the principles of dignity.
Dignity requires conscious choice and deliberate action. Like anything we want to do well, it must be practiced. As Harvard Associate and dignity expert Donna Hicks notes, we may all be born with dignity, but we are not born knowing how to act like it.
The good news is that dignity can be taught. It can be learned. We’re reminded of Nelson Mandela’s words:
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
So we must actively engage young people in recognizing their own dignity and self-worth. In classrooms, community centres, places of worship, refugee camps and at home, we need to help them understand that every single one of us has a right to be treated with dignity. And, in turn, that we all have a responsibility to treat others with dignity.
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Because we want a world where compassion, understanding and love triumph, we started Global Dignity in 2006. Believing in this common vision, Young Global Leaders, Global Shapers and Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs have since reached nearly two million young people in Dignity Days around the world.
Why? On a personal level, cultivating our own dignity awareness helps us stay true to our core when someone does us harm. Think about people like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malala Yousafzai. Their fights for human rights are rooted in compassion and love, not revenge and hate. Like an ethical compass, dignity kept them focused on their visions for justice and peace, and inspired others to embrace and spread their values.
When young people recognize their own inherent worth and the fundamental value of every other person, they are empowered to build communities where dignity values are at the heart of our politics, economies, education, healthcare and justice systems.
Dignity is the great equalizer. It cuts through all divisions and unites us around our shared humanity.
We have the knowledge and the technology to transcend conflict and hatred and create cultures of dignity in our organizations, schools, workplaces and communities.
Let’s recommit to honouring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by energizing young people to embrace the dignity values and put them into action.
Let’s teach them to love.
To learn more, or to get involved, visit www.globaldignity.org