A friend of mine used the phrase “a woman of dignity” the other day, and the words echoed inside me like the caroling of a cathedral bell tower on Christmas Eve. Now I know what they mean when they say “it rang true.”
That’s exactly what I want to be, I thought. A woman of dignity. Not a woman with dignity, as if it’s something additive — attached from the outside or assigned by someone else. But a woman of dignity, as if it’s the very stuff she’s made of. The word connotes integrity, another character trait to which I aspire. Integrated — whole, sound, of one piece of cloth. Dignity is something woven into your being.
The Latin root of dignity means worthy, proper, and fitting, and the Indo-European root would be dek – to take, accept.
I love this combination of meanings, not just for women, but for everyone. We are all worthy just by our very existence. All we need to do is take this — accept it as truth. This way of self-identifying, this state of grace, is what I would call being a Child of God and recognizing it. We should accept no less than the proper and fitting honor for that, both from the way we treat ourselves and the way others treat us. Our inner ruminations, self-talk, our motivations, our outer behavior, and the way others treat us should all be rooted in decency — also from that same dek root.
I’d venture to say that most women, in particular, have grown up thinking they are not good enough. From a million societal messages, we hear this every day and our mothers did and our grandmothers did and so on and on. Many men I know got this message from their fathers, who probably got it from theirs: “No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t please him.”
Deep inside, most of us do not believe we are worthy, and we accept behavior that we don’t deserve, from ourselves and from others.
I grew up in an unhealthy environment where we all learned the various family “isms” that go along with an alcoholic home. Low self-esteem, anger, denial, anxiety, shame, lack of authenticity and trust, fear of intimacy — visit the Al-Anon family site if you’re interested in finding out more.
By the way, it’s not just alcoholism that foments these traits — a raging parent or sibling, emotionally distant or disturbed family members, drug, sex, or gambling addictions, etc. etc. And the behavior is often passed from generation to generation, so even if a particular generation does not have active addictive behaviors, they will still exhibit the behavioral and attitudinal “isms.” No offense, but I’ll bet you have some of them. You’ve got some voices in your head telling you lies.
We Get to Choose
Today, though, I get to choose. I’m no longer a trapped child, no longer a victim. I don’t have to do crazy anymore. I don’t even have to do disrespectful anymore. I can choose to walk away from people and situations that do not honor my dignity.
I can make choices that recognize and honor myself as a woman of dignity. If I recognize and treat myself that way, it’s far more likely that others will do the same. So honestly, you don’t have to become a person of dignity. You already *are* a person of dignity. Accept it and believe it. If you have to, start by “acting as if” — just act as if you’re a woman or man of dignity; own it — and see what happens.
Reach Out and Take It
This week, I’m going to talk to a lawyer about a situation that I have allowed to go on for many, many years. It’s been disrespectful and stressful and has had big ramifications in my life. I’ve decided that I deserve better. I’m not acting out of anger or revenge — that doesn’t come from dignity. I’m simply not accepting this anymore.
I am stunned that I have found the courage to do this, despite the fear of anger, retaliation, and loss of relationship. I’ve heard it said that courage is simply fear that has said its prayers. In fact, it was surprisingly easy to dial the lawyer’s number when I woke up this morning and said to myself, “I am a woman of dignity.”
So, here: I offer you dignity – reach out and take it.
Bell Tower: Wikimedia Commons
Weaving hands: Wikipedia
Elderly man shaking hands: White House public domain photos; Acclaim Images