Personal Dignity

Personal Dignity

A much admired reader of The Daily Paradox has asked me to write about honesty and truth in politics. It is a request I cannot resist but I do so from a different point of view to the tradition of ‘truth is right’. When I asked my four year old great granddaughter Phoebe, last Sunday, to write me a story about an enormous dinosaur she agreed. I’m sure she will do so even though she knows that there is no such thing today and that if she writes in the present tense it will not be true. She will write the story because, by doing so, she will enhance her stature as well as mine. To have a win-win with someone 86 years younger / older than you can’t be bad.

As she starts to grow up I shall be asking her different questions and seeking other evidence of her blossoming creative ability and growing common sense. They will be aimed at helping her to see how she presents herself credibly to herself. Increasingly I will search for her intellect, her views about the world she will soon have to join in leading, and how she wants to help those she comes in contact with. My efforts will be insignificant alongside those of her parents and teachers but our objectives will be the same. A well-rounded and wholesome human being is as great an achievement as anyone can wish for.

Such an accomplishment is manifest by self-respect. She will earn respect for her truthful accounts of the battles she has to fight, the victories she manages to win and the progress she makes for other people as well as for herself. Towards the end of her life she will no doubt glance back across the years and make her own assessment of how she fared in what, by then, will be a world I wouldn’t recognise even if I was still around to see it. She may not use the words ‘personal dignity’ but they will sum up her life as the example she has set for those who follow. Whatever her conclusions they will tell of her accomplishments and her failures.

As does the personal dignity of all leaders and of all humans. Achievement is not measured by the certificates hanging on a wall, nor the great people we have met and hobnobbed with, nor the wealth we have stashed away, nor the praise we have received. It is the personal dignity we have acquired. It may not be obvious to others. The most dignified person I met when I was young was an illiterate farmhand, a kind and gentle soul who cherished his horses, learnt the soil and gave his time to people like me so that I might gather a little of his wisdom.

Our era is perhaps as selfish as any the planet has seen. We have resources not dreamt of even when I was a child, but we have people dying of hunger. Who cannot have felt shame at the sight of the little Somalian boy who starved to death in sight of the camera? Whose hands are not mudied by the earth scraped aside to make room for his burial? You do not have to be religious to admit that the society we have formed has many things very wrong. And yet we continue to appoint leaders on the basis of fake news, unfulfillable promises, too much for ourselves and too little for others. So what can we do personally to put that right?

All the practical things of giving, helping, caring for others. They are a prerequisite to a more balanced world. President Xi Jinping has said that we live in a dangerous moment of history. Well, he and President Biden and the other world leaders had better start to lead the way out of it or the human race may be set back fifty thousand years. What does that require each of us to do, individually? It says that we must address our personal dignity, who we are when we look in the mirror. We can’t see it anywhere else.

I have three people whose work and vocations have little to do with their dignity but whose behaviour endows them with Dignity Honours. The first is The Man on the Corner. I didn’t know his name. I only met him fleetingly in the 1970s. He begged a South Africa Rand to pay for his bus fare to take him home. His gratitude made such an impression on me that I wrote his story*. I have never forgotten him. He had humble personal dignity.

The second is a lady called Gina. She is a Philippina who has worked for us for more than ten years. She has a family of her own in the Philippines. I have never heard her say, or seen her do, anything that suggested she was unhappy, dissatisfied with life or in any way less than grateful for her lot. For all who forget how fortunate we are, Gina has joyful personal dignity. And the third person I cite for the accolade is Good Pope Francis. His is one of the most visible jobs on earth. I don’t share his faith but from the moment of his ordination he has appeared to think only of others and never of himself. Pope Francis has generous personal dignity.

A life touched by the dignity of those I have mentioned is blessed indeed.

And a wonderful challenge to the personal dignity of those who hear it.

Good morning

John Bittleston

*If you’d like a copy of the short story “The Man on the Corner” please ask. I will be happy to forward it to you. Please write to me at

19 October 2022