• Tamarah Webb

Commentary: Dignity

What is going on? Americans have established an era that our past ancestors would say is backward. The guidelines and traditional/generational teachings of our past leaders, parents, and historians have faded.  Reality TV and celebrity gossip have stepped in as role models for social cultures. Keeping up with the Kardashians demonstrates the fundamentals on how to adapt to marriage,Bad Girls Club illustrates the way females should reject compromise when interacting with one another, and Jersey Shore is our guide to having fun and being trendsetters. What is this addiction we have to the business of others? Why do we rely on the actions of celebrities to determine our views towards ourselves? Where is the dignity in that?

David Brooks shines a light on the issue of dignity within our society by introducing George Washington’s ethical conclusions regarding dignity. A list of one-hundred and ten “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company” was Washington’s guiding force. Washington “…come to personify what you might call the dignity code” through the unvarying application of the rules throughout his daily life. He believed these guidelines could create a respectable and well rounded outer man by shaping his inner morals. The code circulated around respecting others and the nation’s Constitution.

“…human beings are flawed creatures who live in constant peril of falling into disasters caused by their own passions. Artificial systems have to be created to balance and restrain their desires.” Is dignity dead or dying? Can we be reticent and subscribe to a genuine lifestyle? Washington believed we could. However, we look up to what is widely accepted to determine the substance of what our morals should be built upon. Many Americans believe they are dignified beings because of prestigious careers and positions acquired; however, dignity is an inner quality. Dignity is not a guaranteed characteristic after being promoted to partner in a firm or elected senior class president.

Americans implement values of dignity into prestigious branches of our society such as religion and the military. Therefore, we look up to its values and respect them; however, maybe we acknowledge the idea of them rather than the desire to seriously implement them into our everyday lifestyles. Our ways of acknowledging dignity may just be to provide connection to past beliefs and values that we want to control in today’s society but have no interest past knowing they are there. Our actions do not reflect our proclaimed moral beliefs.

The establishment of social gridlock is put into place by our inability to think with self-confidence and assurance. Our attention is dedicated to the mundane entertainment of TV shows. People who don’t know how to act (in the behavioral scene of the word) have achieved the positions of comforter and entertainer in our lives. Seeing what is ridiculous, embarrassing, and out-of-the-box attracts us. We want to know what will happen next. How will they carry on?

In a way, maybe we feel like we are watching our alter-egos. One side of us that we don’t demonstrate because it isn’t our dominant personality, but is present within our being. Being flashy, gaudy, and loud may be the opposite traits of a person; however, those are traits of their alter-ego. We watch ridiculous shows, about people being ridiculous; and we know it to be ridiculous, however, it is because everything is ridiculous, that we find it entertaining. We are attracted to the depiction of an alternate self-carried out through individuals in reality TV. 

It isn’t just this young generation to reproof. Wives compare the behavior of their husband to what Cosmopolitan Magazine has to say. This woman may fill her ideas of her marriage based on a commercial piece of journalism. She may question the authenticity of her marriage because things don’t add up to the guided advice of a magazine!  Many of us lack a healthy dose of poise and self-awareness. Americans are falling victim to a syndrome that blots out our views and personal identity.

We judge those on television to be people who have “mad it.” We, in turn, may subconsciously idolize them and their character. Not to say all Americans do this metamorphosis into ignorance; basing their ethical map-work on the entertaining people in reality television and other avenues of media. Some Americans are aware of the division between private and public business. It is okay to be loud, goofy, and obnoxious; but the place and time really matter.

Once I was in a small Bath & Body Works store with a friend. There was serene jazz music playing and older women walking around examining the merchandise. However, when I looked over at my friend, she was smelling and touching everything. She rushed over to where I was, urging me to smell stuff while loudly complaining about the expense. She exclaimed about how the products smelled good regardless and then would yell, “You know what I mean?” Suddenly something else would spark her interest and she would race over to grab it and make more of her thoughts known to everyone in the store. The older women continued to look through the store, but I knew they were thinking of the disruptively of my friend. Their wide-eyed expressions told it all; wrong place and the wrong time.   

Dignity has merit. It is a guiding force for personal health and wellbeing. Washington’s ethical code; however, has not survived modern life. In retrospect, the values of society have shifted with the time. We don’t carry ourselves, treat each other, speak, socialize, or dress the way we did during Washington’s time. The dignity code is outdated.  Cultural pessimism washed away the old code. Now Americans duplicate the “ethics” of social media and gossip articles. Dignity isn’t hard to express. Not texting on a cell phone while talking to the cashier at McDonald’s or your mother is a simple way to show dignity. Dignity is something you must prove to people by being an example. Implementations of altruism can expand inner morals, which in turn, will be illustrated through our outward ways. Wee all yearn to depend and trust in one another.

Hubris poses a foil to dignity. The two can be easily mixed-up a misperceived. Demonstrating arrogance and excessive pride is hubris, which can be interpreted as a synonym for dignity. However, that isn’t just. It’s a misinterpret because dignity is what should be implemented as a way of self-satisfaction and natural comfort towards ourselves; as well as a positive outlook on our abilities, thoughts, wishes, and life goals. Amnesty must be granted to those who confuse the two and act out of ignorance because they are native to the true meaning of dignity and its importance as a characteristic.

Although, we shouldn’t strip away practices of dignity itself just because its past foundation has eroded away. Maybe a new code should carry on Washington’s innovative ideas. Maybe we need to update what was “designed to improve inner morals by shaping the outward man.”  Being reticent, adventurous, humble, dispassionate, and respectful are still desirable in our society. The code was kept alive for decades and its ideas were passed down through generations. Presidents and religious leaders steered away from publically promoting themselves in order to establish a dignified persona, which then instills a trust from the people. We can prognosticate the transformation into a severely dependent society. However, maybe dignity isn’t dying, just hiding.