Restoring Dignity

We need a mission to restore dignity, and Mel Lawrenz’s editorial in Milwaukee is a good start. Dignity transcends words; dignity can only be embodied, and words that are dis-embodied deny dignity.

Blood on the ground produces panic and confusion and rage, but is also an opportunity for moral clarity. We are watching it all right now. The blood at a traffic stop, the blood of assassinated police officers, the blood of men, women and children run over by a terrorist driving a truck.

Moral clarity begins with the question of what preceded the blood. The bang of the pistol or the crack of the assault rife marks the moment of failure. But it does not need to go that far. We are awed by what Dallas Police Chief David Brown has accomplished in recent years in bringing assaults on officers and shootings by police dramatically downward. When Brown explains his methods, it is obvious they include moral and spiritual diagnoses and remedies. This is the kind of wisdom we need today. Through community policing, Brown has proactively developed a relational link between residents and officers.

Deep down, what we are struggling with as a nation is a crisis of dignity. Violence is a lapse of dignity, and sometimes a cynical attempt to steal it away.

Most people will say they believe in dignity, but are hard-pressed to define what it means. Dignity means worth. To treat someone with dignity is based on the conviction that they have worth. For some people, such as Brown, that conviction is so deeply ingrained that they don’t even think about it. They go into tension-filled situations with a motive to de-escalate. But it is not naive — when a sniper in a parking garage needs to be stopped, he will be.

Other people have no such conviction. They enter into human interactions with a motive to dominate. They look to control or use others, and in so doing violate their dignity. This is the story of much of human history. In the Roman empire you had dignity if you had social status. If you belonged to the slave class you simply had no dignitas, no worth.

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