Dignity, nobility, honor… all of these are complex abstract nouns on which we place great importance without really fully knowing what they mean. While we all have a vague grasp of what they entail, to put them into words is exceedingly hard – and it’s even more impossible to try and live by them when we can’t even define them.
Dignity in particular is a difficult one and is perhaps even less clearly defined than the others like it. We all want to be dignified and to keep out dignity ‘intact’ but what does this mean?
If you type define: dignity into Google then what you get is a result from the dictionary saying ‘the state or quality of being worthy or honor or respect’. Seeing as we’ve already mentioned that honor itself is somewhat difficult to define this doesn’t immediately make things clear (and particularly as honor is then listed as a synonym). Respect of course is a more easy term to understand but then at the same time it’s something that’s quite a broad definition. We might respect a footballer for instance for their sporting prowess, but is Wayne Rooney dignified? Most would argue not.
The second definition that comes up is ‘a composed or serious manner or style’. So in other words this is someone who manages to hold themselves together and who remains ‘serious’. Serious is something we can take lightly as arguably you could be dignified and still have a sense of humor, but if we merge these two definitions into someone who is worthy of respect due to managing to remain composed then we are somewhere close to revealing the true meaning of dignity.
How Dignity Is Different From Honor
If someone is honorable then how is this different from dignity? Well, someone who has great honor will act from a moral code that they take seriously. Honor originally comes from chivalry and Bushido and is a code of the warrior – and what keeps them loyal to their cause and prevents them going rogue.
Someone who has honor then is willing to put themselves second to what they perceive to be the greater good or a higher purpose, and would similarly put themselves out of their way to remain true to their word.
Someone with dignity however is likely to have these qualities too, however here the focus is much more on how a person is perceived by others. In fact an honorable act might be to lose one’s dignity – to see themselves humiliated in order that they might save someone else. Honor then is something personal, whereas dignity is more in the eye of the beholder.
Do You Possess Dignity?
Someone dignified then is someone who is seen to be cool and collected in a crisis and who doesn’t beg or make a mockery of themselves. Someone dignified is someone who wouldn’t dress up as a clown to get a cheap laugh but would sooner use a witty retort (though someone with great dignity might manage to poke fun at themselves and even act foolish while not damaging their own respect). Someone dignified similarly is the sort of person who would not cry in front of others so as to avoid upsetting them.
Whether dignity is a good thing or not is of course a matter open to discussion, and like anything it is important that dignity be exercised within proportion. That said the ability to hold things together and to give off an air of poise and respect is something that many of us aspire to.