Do You Respect Their Dignity?
ROUNDED up like animals and stowed in unbelievable filth and stench, native Africans were shipped like cargoes to the Americas. At least half of them were expected to die before even reaching their destination. Family members were cruelly separated, never to see one another again. The slave trade was among the darkest episodes in man’s inhuman treatment of his fellowman. Other such episodes occurred when powerful conquerors cruelly subjected defenseless native peoples.
Stripping a person of dignity can be more brutal than inflicting physical blows. It is devastating to the human spirit. Though slavery has been abolished in most lands, the undermining of human dignity continues, perhaps in more subtle forms.
True Christians, on the other hand, strive to heed the admonition of Jesus Christ to ‘love their neighbor as themselves.’ Hence, they ask themselves, ‘Do I respect the personal dignity of others?’—Luke 10:27.
Dignity, according to a dictionary, is the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed. What a fitting description of the status of the Universal Sovereign, Jehovah God! In fact, the Scriptures repeatedly associate Jehovah and his sovereignty with dignity. Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the apostle John, and others were privileged to be given inspired visions of the Most High and his heavenly court, and their descriptions consistently portrayed awesome majesty and dignity. (Exodus 24:9-11; Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 1:26-28; Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:1-3) In a prayer of praise, King David said: “Yours, O Jehovah, are the greatness and the mightiness and the beauty and the excellency and the dignity; for everything in the heavens and in the earth is yours.” (1 Chronicles 29:11) Truly, no one is more worthy of honor and esteem than is Jehovah God himself.
In creating man in his image and likeness, Jehovah bestowed upon humans a measure of worthiness, self-respect, and dignity. (Genesis 1:26) Therefore, in our dealings with others, we need to accord each person due honor and respect. When we do so, we are, in effect, acknowledging the Source of human dignity, Jehovah God.—Psalm 8:4-9.
Dignity in Family Relations
Under inspiration, the apostle Peter, who was a married man, admonished Christian husbands to assign their wives “honor as to a weaker vessel.” (1 Peter 3:7; Matthew 8:14) “On the other hand,” advised the apostle Paul, “the wife should have deep respect for her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33) Therefore, in marriage, honor and respect for the personal dignity of one’s mate is a Bible requirement. In what ways can this be shown?
As water vitalizes a growing plant, gracious speech and kind gestures between husband and wife, in public and in private, can nurture their intimate relationship. Conversely, harsh, insulting verbal attacks or flippant, sarcastic put-downs, as are often heard on TV sitcoms, are destructive. They can trigger harmful feelings of worthlessness, depression, and resentment; they can even cause emotional wounds that are not easily healed.
Respecting the personal dignity of others also means accepting them as they are, not trying to fit them into some preconceived ideal or making unfair comparisons with others. This is especially important between husbands and wives. Where communication and expressions flow freely and comfortably and nobody fears being criticized or berated, intimacy will flourish. When a person can be himself or herself in a marriage, then home truly becomes a refuge from the cruel, harsh outside world.
Children are under Scriptural command to respect and obey their parents. In turn, wise and loving parents would do well to recognize the dignity of their children. Warm commendation for good behavior, coupled with patient discipline when necessary, works well in reinforcing the “mental-regulating of Jehovah.” Constant criticism, yelling, and name-calling with humiliating terms like “stupid” or “idiot” will only irritate them.—Ephesians 6:4.
One Christian elder and father, who is bringing up three sons and three daughters, says: “At the Kingdom Hall, we gave needed discipline as quietly as possible. A little nudge or a stern, warning stare was usually sufficient. If more serious discipline was needed, we would give it in the privacy of our home and away from the other children. Now that the children are older, discipline involves giving each one the loving, wise counsel from God’s Word according to their individual needs. We try to maintain confidentiality in these personal matters, thus showing respect for each child’s right to privacy and dignity.”
Not to be overlooked is the need for good manners in word and action within the family. Familiarity should not choke out words like “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” and “I’m sorry.” Good manners are fundamental both in maintaining one’s own dignity and in respecting that of others.
In the Christian Congregation
“Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you,” said Jesus. (Matthew 11:28) The downtrodden, the depressed, even the little children, were all irresistibly drawn to Jesus. They were scorned by the arrogant and self-righteous clergy and leaders of the day. But in Jesus they found someone who accorded them the dignity they deserved.
In imitation of Jesus, we too want to be a source of refreshment to our fellow believers. This means looking for opportunities to build them up by our speech and our actions. It is always appropriate to be sincerely generous with kind and positive remarks in our conversation. (Romans 1:11, 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:11) We show that we are sensitive to the feelings of others by being careful of what we say as well as how we say it. (Colossians 4:6) Proper dress and decorum at Christian meetings also reflect deep respect for the dignity of our God, his worship, and our fellow worshipers.
Jesus respected people’s dignity even when he was rendering them a service. Never did he aggrandize himself at the expense of others or by putting them down. When a leper came to him seeking a cure, Jesus did not dismiss the man as unclean and unworthy, nor did he make a spectacle by calling attention to himself. Rather, when the leper begged Jesus, “Lord, if you just want to, you can make me clean,” He dignified the leper by saying, “I want to.” (Luke 5:12, 13) How wonderful it is for us not only to help those in need but also to reassure them that they are not a burden but are wanted and loved! The shy, depressed, and disabled are usually overlooked, shunned, or humiliated in the world. But they should find true fellowship and acceptance when among their Christian brothers and sisters. We must do our part to contribute to this spirit.
Jesus loved his disciples as “his own” and “loved them to the end” in spite of their shortcomings and personality quirks. (John 13:1) He saw in them pure hearts and whole-souled devotion to his Father. Likewise, we should never ascribe evil motives to our fellow worshipers just because they may not do things our way or because their habits or personalities may rub us the wrong way. Respect for the dignity of our brothers will move us to love and accept them as they are, trusting that they also love Jehovah and serve him with pure motives.—1 Peter 4:8-10.
Elders, especially, should be careful that they do not cause undue anxiety for those entrusted to their care. (1 Peter 5:2, 3) When meeting with a member of the congregation who has fallen into sin, it would be well for the elders to cushion their words with kindness and consideration and avoid asking embarrassing questions needlessly. (Galatians 6:1) Even when strong reproof or discipline is in order, they would continue to honor the wrongdoer’s rightful dignity and self-respect.—1 Timothy 5:1, 2.
Maintaining Personal Dignity
Being created in God’s image and likeness, we are to reflect, to the extent possible, God’s magnificent qualities—including his dignity—in our daily lives. (Genesis 1:26) Similarly, implicit in the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is the need for a balanced measure of personal dignity and self-respect. (Matthew 22:39) The fact is that if we want others to show us respect and grant us dignity, we must demonstrate that we deserve it.
An important factor in maintaining self-respect and personal dignity is maintaining a clean conscience. A defiled conscience and pangs of guilt easily lead to feelings of worthlessness, frustration, and depression. Hence, if a person has committed a serious wrong, he should take immediate steps to repent and seek the spiritual assistance of the elders so as to enjoy “seasons of refreshing . . . from the person of Jehovah.” Included in the refreshment is the restoration of one’s personal dignity and self-respect.—Acts 3:19.
It is better yet to put forth a constant effort to safeguard our Bible-trained conscience, not allowing anything to stain or weaken it. Exercising self-control in all areas of our daily life—eating, drinking, business, entertainment, dealings with those of the opposite sex—will help us keep a clean conscience and enable us to reflect God’s glory and dignity in our lives.—1 Corinthians 10:31.
What if guilt over our mistakes refuses to fade away? Or what if memories of abuses suffered continue to be painful? These can crush our personal dignity and bring on intense depression. How comforting are the words of King David found at Psalm 34:18: “Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves”! Jehovah is ready and willing to sustain his servants when they have to cope with depression and feelings of worthlessness. Supplication to him along with seeking the help of those spiritually qualified, such as Christian parents, elders, and other mature ones in the congregation, is the lifeline to restoring self-respect and personal dignity.—James 5:13-15.
On the other hand, we need to be on guard against crossing the line between personal dignity and arrogance. The Scriptural counsel is “not to think more of [oneself] than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind, each one as God has distributed to him a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3) While it is proper to cultivate self-respect, we do not want to exaggerate our own worth or confuse human dignity with the selfish and extreme efforts some make to save face before others.
Yes, respect for another’s dignity is a Christian requirement. Our family members and our fellow Christians are all worthy and deserving of our respect, honor, and esteem. Jehovah has granted each of us a measure of dignity and honor that we should acknowledge and maintain. But above all, we must cultivate deep reverence for the surpassing dignity and majesty of our heavenly Father, Jehovah God.
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Youngsters can show respect for those who are disabled