I have started reading ‘The Remains of the Day’ and the discourse on dignity and greatness is thought provoking. It led me to musing about the people in my life whom I either respect or don’t and the qualities which they possess or lack.
The two men who I respect most are my father and step father. My step father is no longer with us but I use the present tense for ease of writing and because the essence of the man lives on.
Key to dignity is self control, I never saw either man give in to temper. The ability to hold extreme emotions in check shows an inner strength which is a comfort and a rock to those around them. Dignity is spine, it is at the core of being. It is not a hat which you don for appearance. Dignity is above petty behavior, therein the relationship between dignity and greatness. The adjective ‘quiet’ is often paired with dignity, a loud or blustering personality does not inspire respect.
Thinking of those who lack dignity a common weakness seems to be insecurity. They may be proud or arrogant in bearing but the pride is of the wrong sort. There is something below the surface which indicates a lack of inner cohesion. On senses fragility at their center.
It is interesting that ‘The Remains of The Day’ is written by a Japanese man Kazuo Ishiguro, as a nation the Japanese seem to hold dignity in very high regard. In Japan loss of face is the ultimate shame. As a nation the Japanese inspire respect.
As a South African I consider our presidents past and present. In my view dignity is a vital part of leadership. Nelson Mandela had dignity and inspired respect. Thabo Mbeki has dignity, most strikingly in his speech after he was ousted from the presidency. We felt safe under their rule. There are aspects of both men which I disagree with but one cannot dispute their dignity. On the other hand our current president Jacob Zuma has no dignity. The clearest example being that he had sex with an HIV positive woman knowing her status, what a shocking display of complete lack of self control. If he cannot control his most base instincts how on earth can we trust him to run our country?
We may be drawn to impassioned personalities delighting in their vibrant colour and charisma but it is with the dignified that we feel safe.
All this aside, although dignity is key to respect they are not mutually exclusive. Dignity is merely one aspect of a truly admirable person. It is also true that some dignified persons may possess or lack other characteristics which render them completely unappealing.