5 Ways to Ensure You’re Treating Someone With Dignity
Not only in the “right way”.
Ensuring you’re treating someone with dignity, easy right?
Not so much.
Simple maybe, easy no. Simple because it just requires active listening, treating without judgement, blame, toxic shame, or criticism.
Everyone is nodding along, yeah! I never do that.
If you’re saying that then it’s almost a guarantee that you treat people in those ways:
She who knows that she does not know is best off.
He who pretends to know but doesn’t is ill.
Only someone who realises he is ill can become whole.
The sage is not ill because she recognises
this illness as illness,
Therefore she is not ill.
~ Tao Te Ching ~
I’m only firm here because the cultural narrative in the west is so firm in its stance. Everyone believes they’re a good person because it’s contained in our culture, no more no less.
Whether you’re a good or bad person is irrelevant to treating someone with dignity. Insisting that you’re a good person usually means that you’re missing the mark.
It means that you can’t see passed your narratives and needs, into the eyes of the other person — the window to the soul.
Any forceful or strong opinion is the realm of the ego; especially if it’s rigid, and unmovable, in context to the discussion.
When we get triggered our rational mind — the prefrontal cortex, shuts down, and our childhood conditions return to us unintegrated, and unregulated. The shut down happens on a kind of dimmer switch.
Now, this isn’t a completely terrible thing; the ego helps us maintain a character in society, yet, it can hinder us in treating someone with dignity.
‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ by Robert Glover documents how the ‘nice guy syndrome’ is an oxymoron in many ways. It’s not so nice after all. It makes you quite controlling; the need to be nice.
“Humans connect with humans. Hiding one’s humanity and trying to project an image of perfection makes a person vague, slippery, lifeless, and uninteresting.”
~ Rupert Glover ~
Most people are indeed walking around thinking that they are a good person, and then treating people in judgement, blame, toxic shame, and criticism.
Are you one of them?
If you said no, then you’re lying. See what I did there?
Sorry, that was a little bit of a dick move.
The truth is, we all act like this when we feel threatened in our way of life. It’s inevitable. At least it’s unavoidable that these states will come into our consciousness so that we can navigate them.
Creating the freedom to understand them, and therefore the space to respond is crucial in treating someone with dignity.
So here are five ways you can ensure that you’re treating someone with dignity:
Well, you can’t claim that you’re listening to someone unless you’re engaged in conversation with them.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ~ Stephen Covey ~
Listening with the intent to reply is not active listening, it’s not a connection to someone’s story, and it won’t engage the other person in conversation. So many people talk at each other until they have no personal stories left to tell, then they sit around in awkward silence. The same words come up again and again until everyone gets bored with them.
Requires some effort on your part, and it could be respectful to schedule time when you know you can focus your full attention on a conversation.
An age-old energy formula.
Think of it this way, if you buy a cheap pair of shoes, then they’ll last you less time, and you’ll need to go out and buy a new pair. This act requires energy, and it’s a false economy to think it’s better to buy cheap shoes in the first place.
If you buy well-made shoes; a little more expensive, and with better material. There are two benefits: they’ll last a long time, and if you need them repaired you can get them resoled.
Let’s translate this metaphor to active listening.
Putting half your attention on a conversation will prolong it, and it’ll create disconnection, resentment, and confusion.
How would you feel if you wanted to have a conversation about something important and you felt like your partner had half their attention on you?
Let down, angry, sad, disappointed? Unseen, unheard, unconfident.
These are things that breed disconnection, and that’s not dignified.
Life is chaotic, and at times you need to schedule a time to chat. Make sure both of you has space. It’s excellent to do it when everyone’s basic needs have been fulfilled; food, safety, hydration etc. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
I’ve found it’s good to set this intention, that gives me time to feel and think through the triggers of not being given attention so I can let them go before we start chatting.
Only the profound desires and needs get brought to the table.
Having all your attention on the conversation allows vulnerability, awareness, empathy, and connection to exist. You’ll be surprised at the cues of body language you can miss when in rushed conversation.
It doesn’t actually take much conversation to make someone feel dignified in their needs, purpose, and desires.
Quality over quantity.
Even if you can’t fulfil those needs yourself, helping someone to direct their energy towards fulfilling them for themselves can create incredible connection and dignity.
Detach from expectation and assumption
A hard one! I respect and appreciate that.
When meeting someone in dignity, you see them as they are, not as you wish them to be.
The success of communication is how your words are received, not how you intended them to be received.
Oof. Let’s take a breath there. I know those two sentences are hefty.
Detaching from expectation and assumption can help you meet the person in connection and dignity. It’s fair to have needs and desires, yet, if you’re trying to force someone into a mould, or a box of your making, then you’re controlling the situation.
That doesn’t enable dignity; it fosters codependence. That leads to a power struggle.
Asking questions will always lead to connection, eventually. I’m presuming you’re going to be kind and compassionate here. Perhaps that isn’t a presumption I should make.
Joking, or passive aggression isn’t curiosity either. Imagine how you would like to be treated, in an ideal world, then treat others like that. You will see that the mirror of your actions will come back to you.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” ~ Albert Einstein ~
Ava Duvernay said, in a conversation with Oprah Winfrey, about the golden keys to interviewing. There were two of them: Curiosity and authentic interest.
Works every time.
Allow someone to define what something means to them.
Suppose you care deeply about someone you’ll want to interview them compassionately because you’ll want to deepen your understanding of their body-mind on a particular state: a thought, energy state, or belief.
The more you understand another, the more connection it breeds. The more love you’ll feel and receive.
Sometimes a well placed: “Mmmmm”, can create the connection that you intended, but didn’t achieve, from sharing your experience.
Here’s another trick, instead of sharing your relevant experience, say to them:
“I hear what you’re saying, and I understand how you feel.”
If you don’t understand, tell them. Be truthful; people know if you’re faking it. Ask them a curious question, in that case, clarify what they meant. You might help them to understand themselves better.
If you go through something challenging and manage to stay connected and open to your partner, you’ll notice that you get closer to them. That’s the power of lived experience. Both people can recall the embodied feeling of that experience, and so they are connected in that experience.
We live in a very open and evasive world now with social media. It’s almost encouraged to share everything and anything on those platforms. The likelihood is, you have people on those platforms you don’t know personally.
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
~ Benjamin Franklin ~
Temporary safety is not empowerment.
I would go so far as to say that we live in a society that is obsessed with temporary safety.
On the positive side, social media provides the opportunity of vulnerability and courage that promotes connection. On the negative side, it dissuades people from honouring privacy, and it is designed to be addictive.
I had a friend of many years come onto my personal Facebook page and aggressively tell me that what I posted wasn’t scientifically correct. He openly admitted that he was triggered, and he wouldn’t stop.
I explained to him that I agreed with his point of view, it wasn’t scientifically verified, and my comment was not only coming from that cultural awareness. Still, he wouldn’t leave my post.
I started to feel strange. That my privacy boundaries had been crossed, which I expressed, and he said that it was social media, so it was free reign.
This interests me because it is so far from my view on the subject. Showing me dignity at that moment would be to listen to the ways that I felt my boundaries had been crossed, respecting that, being curious, and pivoting around it.
I wasn’t particularly insistent that he change his views, I was more concerned with the sense that he wasn’t respecting me.
In your personal conversations, are you willing to be flexible? Are there parts of your beliefs that you’re willing to leave unexpressed? For the sake of a respectful and dignified conversation.
Where is the line for you?
It’s important to understand these things.
What I observed, from having childhood trauma, is that I started almost frantic and desperate — always having to have my opinion validated and confirmed in conversation. Anyone that didn’t supply that for me triggered a state of pain, confusion, and resentment.
I was full of suppressed emotion.
After I healed that trauma significantly, I was able to observe my thoughts and feelings without needing to state them.
If you aren’t comfortable with sharing something, then it’s well within your dignified right to say so and withdraw that conversation from the table. It might be the action that you need to evolve the relating you have.
That’s courageous action, and you need to consider the idea that they will not want to evolve, however, saying you’re not comfortable to discuss something is respectful and authentic to you. It means that you’re not breaking your self-trust.
Understand that everyone’s a believer
Some people argue themselves silly over values; they insist that the other person understand, and even go blue in the face trying to make their partner align with their values.
If you have continued arguments which seem to gravitate around the same subjects, the chances are that you’re arguing over values.
“A thought is harmless unless we believe it.” ~ Byron Katie ~
It’s one thing to understand and connect, and another is to need the other to agree with you.
If you’re arguing about values, then it’ll never be resolved. Not unless you agree to respect and honour the difference. It’s possible to live alongside different values.
We are all experiencing life in parallel, and comparison is the greatest trap. You’re not providing someone dignity by dismissing, ridiculing their values, or expecting them to change.
Cultural validation isn’t always personal validation.
Everyone’s life is unique to them, and we’re all made of the same stuff. That’s the beautiful paradox of life. We all have the same basic needs, archetypal behaviour, and hero’s journey through life, yet, we’re all different and fascinating.
Providing someone dignity is providing yourself with dignity. It’s opening up and creating a connection between one human and another, opening up the ever-flowing river of consciousness; richness of thought and emotion; insights into my life through the eyes of another.
There’s not a conversation that I have now in which I don’t learn something more about myself and the things that I have experienced. I choose to frame that in a life-long student frame, and I am full of gratitude with every interaction.
How are you doing with seeing dignity in others?
Peter is a creative coach working to unblock people's authentic creative essence and expression. Using transformational life coaching, meditation and embodiment techniques. He is passionate about mental health, trauma informed practice, spirituality and how to create sustainable cultures that empower in equity.