Celebrating human dignity

In my nearly five decades in business, I have spoken up about a great number of unacceptable issues that I feel strongly about - from the barbaric and inhumane practice of the death penalty to the plight of millions of refugees around the world; from the needless criminalisation and marginalisation of people who use drugs to the sad state of universal human rights in many parts of the world. 

When asked what motivates me to take on these issues, I can think of a simple answer that ties all them together: this is about human dignity. 

In simple terms, dignity is each human being’s inherent value and worth – the idea that there’s something about each and every one of us that is inviolable and must be protected from harm. 

For the last few years, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of serving on the honorary board of Global Dignity, a wonderful organisation committed to spreading and embedding the concept of dignity in education, in workplaces, and in public policy around the world.

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Founded in 2006 by Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and his friends John Bryant and Pekka Himanen, Global Dignity is guided by five core principles, namely that every person:

  1. Has the right to pursue their purpose and meaning in life, and to reach their full potential.
  2. Deserves to live in societies that provide humane access to education, health, income and security.
  3. Has their life, identity and beliefs respected by others.
  4. Has the responsibility to create the conditions for others to fulfill their potential, acting to strengthen the dignity of others, building a foundation of freedom, justice and peace for this, and future generations.
  5. Believes that dignity in action means standing up against injustice, intolerance and inequality.

When taken as a whole, it is easy to see that dignity underpins virtually every undertaking to make the world a better, fairer and more human place. The recognition of dignity as a common value worth pursuing weaves a thread through some of humanity’s proudest accomplishments, from the Geneva Convention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, from Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to the codification of workers’ rights and labour standards over the last 150 years.  

While few will disagree that human dignity is worth defending in word and deed, the day-to-day reality around the world paints a very different, darker picture. 

Whether they are unintended, casual or deliberate, violations of human dignity are present in nearly everything we read, hear or see in the news. Just in the last few days, the indiscriminate bombing and killing of civilians in Syria’s maddening conflict is a reminder that dignity is often the first casualty of oppression and aggression. 

As we celebrate Global Dignity Day on October 16th, I wish we would all take a moment to pause and reflect what dignity should mean in our own lives. Head over to Global Dignity to learn more about how you can engage.

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