A Year of Dignity #5 – Acknowledgment

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Have you ever experienced a time when your presence, input, or even pain was ignored by someone? Most of us have. And I’m sure you’ll agree: it feels terrible! It sends the message that we’re not important. That’s the power of acknowledgement, this week’s essential element of Dignity.

The Fourth Essential Element of Dignity – Acknowledgment

This week we’ll be taking a closer look at Acknowledgment and the role it plays in honoring one’s Dignity. This approach to dignity is outlined in something called the Dignity Model, which was shared in the first post of the series.

Acknowledgment – Give people your full attention by listening, hearing, validating, and responding to their concerns, feelings, and experiences.

Taking Stock of My Relationship to this Element of Dignity

As I’ve done in previous posts, I’ll be using the questions below to complete a self-evaluation of my own relationship to this element of dignity.

  • Have you done this in the past?
  • Do you do it now?
  • Can you recall a time when you did or did not make others feel acknowledged?
  • Can you recall a time when others did or did not make you feel acknowledged?

But first…

A Quick Accounting

Here is my answer to this week’s Facebook poll:

Can you think of a time when the importance of being acknowledged or acknowledging others was highlighted to you?

The first thing that comes to my mind is how much I don’t like it when I’m talking to someone and they’re so easily distracted that they allow the conversation to be interrupted by whatever is going on around us over and over again.

The second thing to come to mind is how much I don’t like that at times I do this to others too.

Have I made a habit of making others feel acknowledged?

Sort of? I think when I know something is important, yes. When I’m engrossed in myself or what I’m doing and someone needs or wants my attention, it becomes much more difficult for me. I’d like to think I acknowledge others with my full attention and validate their feelings, concerns, and experiences as a matter of course. But I know it’s actually something I regularly struggle to achieve. The most difficult aspect being that of my full attention.

As I reflected on this element of dignity this week I realized that I’ve sort of adapted what might be considered an un-dignified defense mechanism. I feel like i’m constantly being bombarded by ads, social media, email, and other people’s concerns that I don’t have room in my own head for myself. As a result, I’ve become good at blocking these things out. What I’m realizing though is that when it comes to those times when I really should be giving folks my full attention, I’m “out of practice” I guess you could say.

Is there a time that comes to mind in which I did or did not make others feel acknowledged?

There is a bad habit I have of almost always wearing headphones. There are a few good reasons for this: I have a mild case of tinnitus, which is a persistent ringing in your ears. Complete silence can be a little maddening, so I often listen to audiobooks or podcasts throughout the day to drown it out. Thankfully, this practice is also great at helping me focus on my work while blocking out distractions around the apartment. Unfortunately, it also makes me unavailable to those around me. Most commonly my wife.

We’ve developed some strategies for making communication at home easier and more accommodating to each other’s priorities. If you’ve never worked at home all-day every-day with another person, you may not understand the intense need for unavailability that can come with that. Sometimes, you just have to focus on your work. If one of us says “pineapple” while the other is trying to talk to them at their desk, that simply means, “Hey, I’m in a flow state right now and I don’t want to break it just to explain I can’t talk.” We also use the messenger app to drop each other messages when the other has headphones on and/or looks involved in something but we have a question or comment or something funny to share.

For the most part, these little strategies are great for us. But I know it drives my wife nuts how much I wear my headphones when they’re not strictly necessary. And she has a right to feel that way. It makes me unavailable and I can tell at times how it must come across as avoidance or a blanket of unavailability that makes connecting throughout the day difficult. I’m trying to change this habit.

Is there a time that comes to mind in which others did or did not make me feel acknowledged?

As I’ve read through my Facebook friends’ responses to my poll I started to realize that one of the most traumatic experiences someone can have in relation to this element of dignity is for their suffering to go un-acknowledged. Particularly by those they trust and who are in positions of authority. Not only do they have to suffer the initial wound (whether it be mental or physical) but they then have to cope with the fact that others aren’t taking their pain seriously.

We hear about these types of injustices all the time. So much so that some of them have become tragic tropes. Such as, “the rape victim no one believed.”

I can recall in my own life that when I was first seeking help for depression and PTSD, I was told by people I trusted that mental illness was not real. What was really going on was something called a “spiritual attack” and if I wanted to get better I should pray and fast. They even insinuated that perhaps I had done something to deserve being spiritually attacked. Maybe I should pray on that too. Otherwise, why would God even allow it in the first place, right?

To say the least, that did not feel good. It made me nervous and even unwilling to seek help again for a long time.

Affirming my Commitment to Acknowledgement

Today I will endeavor to be an agent of Dignity.

I will approach others as being neither inferior nor superior to myself.

I will be my authentic self and give others the freedom to express their authentic selves without fear of being negatively judged.

I will interact without prejudice or bias, accepting the ways in which race, religion, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, and disability may be at the core of other people’s identities.

I will conduct myself with integrity and assume others are too.

I will do my best to make others feel that they belong–whether they are in my family, community, organization, or nation.

I will do my best to make others feel safe both physically and psychologically.

When engaging with others I will give them my full attention. I will truly listen to them while validating their concerns, feelings, and experiences.

Final Thoughts

After a week of reflection I can see this is one area where I have a lot of work to do. Mostly in the small moments, the ones that don’t seem like a big deal but can accumulate over time to make others feel un-acknowledged. I look forward to working on finding the right balance between personal space and availability so that I can be fully present in my interactions with others.

Next Week in A Year of Dignity – Recognition

Next week I’ll be reflecting and writing about Recognition. If you’d like to see how this element of dignity fits into the Dignity Model, you can read about it here or even get the Dignity book.

Featured Image via Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Free Humanist Resources

Dignity by Donna Hicks, Ph.D.

Read the book that inspired this blog series and gain deeper insights into the nature and importance of dignity.

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