Universal Dignity: An Intrinsic Quality
Where do we meet others in suffering if dignity is invincible? Do Mani’s ideas change our perception of social activism, global citizenship, cosmopolitanism, or interconnectedness?
Mani (2013) argues that dignity is not an extrinsic property, but an intrinsic quality. Dignity is not contingent on the actions of others towards us. It is separate and autonomous from suffering. That suffering might need to receive detailed documentation, as “details delineate truth and enrich understanding” (p. 205). As those who have suffered are able to testify about that truth, it is empowering.
The idea of dignity being an intrinsic quality seems to be about how Mani describes a radical ecology of the whole life (Mani & Goswami, 2014). It is less about what others don’t affect my dignity but is more that everything should be treated with care and concern. Whether you are talking about plants, animals, people, they are all important. There is an interconnectedness between all of us. While that interconnectedness does not necessarily mean that everything is interrelated.
That interconnectedness does mean that we have a responsibility to each other. In 2003, I went with a group to Kenya, Rwanda, Congo, and Tanzania. In Rwanda, I saw the mass graves and some of the physical and emotional aftermath of the genocide that happened there less than ten years before. It was an immense amount of suffering. I saw the Hutu’s that wore pink uniforms in the community. In thinking who has dignity, we can say that they all do. But transformational view that I hear in Mani, is in the discourse and dialiag that we might engage in regarding who we help in social activism. Who do we choose to stand up for? When people do bad things, should we be standing up for them as well? It seems that it is about where the need is and less about who is the “good” versus “bad” person. Being a global citizen means moving away from necessarily having an exclusively nationalistic point of view.
When is nationalism problematic? When is nationalism an obstacle to identifying as a citizen of the world?
I’ve been lucky to travel to many places. When I was in college, working on my AA and my BA, I was involved with a group that went to volunteer in Vancouver BC in Canada each spring break. While I don’t remember the details of the conversation, I had an experience that opened up my perspective. I made an off-hand comment about being American and was confronted (very kindly) by a Canadian who offered that they were American too. I was perplexed. Later, when I was living in Cusco Peru, I spent some time volunteering with a school program and remember being blown away that they were teaching that there were six continents. That both North and South America were a part of the greater whole of the Americas.
At the time, and probably to a large extent still, I was trapped in a little bubble of my understanding of the world. That there was little to no understanding of being a global citizen or that it might be off-putting for me to appropriate the name of the entire content, calling myself American is if none of the other cohabitants of the content could call themselves the same.
From what I understand to be a Buddhist term and concept (my understand is very rudimentary), Mani talking with Groswami (2014) describes her book and some of the ways that she thinks about her writing style. She described asking “What do I need to understand to understand you?” That she approaches her thought process with a beginner’s mind.
In the United States, there has been rhetoric from the current president about America First and making decisions only in our best interest and disregarding previous agreements, world interests, and everything else. While President Trump is probably the most egregious actor who says outlandish things, I would imagine that many nations to one degree or another act in similar ways. In the same way that all should be considered important and to be treated with care. It seems to me that there is a need for countries to do the same.
This idea of considering other important and with care does not negate the need for some level of nationalism. If we are to care for other nations, there is a need for us to care for ourselves as well. As Mani described, “it is impossible to practice equality if you don’t practice self-love” (Mani & Goswami, 2014)
Mani, L. (2013). The integral nature of things: Critical reflections on the present. New Delhi: Routledge.
Mani, L. , & Goswami, A. [PublicTexts]. (2014 Feb 4). PublicTexts@IIHS - The integral nature of things - Lata Mani [Video File]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKuj2mFx7XQ
This essay was posted as part of course work for TSD 8210 - Self, Society & Transformation at the California Institute of Integral Studies.