Responding to comments on my dignity piece over at MercatorNet is helping me present the core idea in a different way:
Contemplating the fact of other people’s minds (subjective realities) has an effect on one’s psyche such that one may come to a greater appreciation of human dignity/worth and at the same time undermine the passions, vices, and desires that typically drive us to undermine human worth.
Eg. sometimes I get annoyed at people’s comments, like the occasional personal attacks. But then I find myself imagining the person writing the comment, and how their experience of reality is as profoundly subjective as my own. Ie. they have a whole world inside their head, like a movie in which they are, for better and for worse, the protagonist.
I’m nobody in other people’s worlds. All the experiences, insights, challenges and achievements I hold dear; all the struggles, the failures, and even the background noise of expectations – none of that exists at all in most other peoples’ worlds, and where it does exist it is a mere fact, a single dot in the vast collage of their own inner world.
When I imagine that, I can’t help but feel that my own world is smaller. I might be the protagonist in my world, but the unpleasant commenter is the same in his. They mystery of consciousness and all the existential tension of human life exists in him as much as in me.
I find that my mind changes, I no longer feel hostile toward him, because all such feelings are forestalled by the magnitude of this fact of ‘other people’s minds’. I’ve broken out of the small drama in which I’m the protagonist and he’s some ******** who’s insulted me unjustly, into the bigger picture where he and I are the same, playing by the same rules, and more often than not even imprisoned or enslaved by the dramas in our own minds.
This is my approach to understanding ‘dignity’ not so much as a technical term, but as a general and ill-defined idea which crops up all over the place. People refer to it with a confidence that is not matched by any clear definition. I think it is real, and I’ve attempted to show what I believe is the admittedly esoteric reality at the heart of the concept.