A Mistake about the Meaning of Dignity

Woman with Arms in the Air“But soon maybe, I will feel better. Someday, I won’t define myself anymore by my achievements and by what other people say about me. There will come a time that I will be able to love myself no matter what- even if I am not good in Math and even if I don’t look like a model. I will soon learn to accept myself despite all the wrong things that I did in the past and despite all the wrong things in my life. I make mistakes, but I am not a mistake. I am okay, even if some people do not like me. Even if I am just being ignored most of the time.

What matters most is that I learn to see my worth; because that is the only way I can truly love myself and the other people around me… ”

I wrote these reflections in my journal two years ago. The 17-year old “me” was bitter, hostile and insecure. Now at age 19, I still feel the same way about some circumstances. Indeed sometimes there are situations, people and events in life that can sway you into thinking that you are not worthy enough. In my experience, one of the things that had hindered me from seeing my worth as a person was my fear of failing. I had based my dignity on my grades, achievements and on what other people had to say about me.

I used to believe that I had to earn my dignity, that I had to work hard to earn my dignity, and that for people to recognize me as a worthwhile human-being, I had to meet certain standards. Whenever I thought that I had failed to meet these standards, I also thought that I was less of a person.

Looking back, I now realize that my fear of failing was not the main reason for why I could not see my worth as a person. The reason I could not see my worth were actually physical and spiritual poverty, issues within my family, and struggles within myself that kept me from claiming my dignity. These factors led me to believe that dignity was something I needed to work hard to earn. The problems I was suffering through made me think that dignity and respect were afforded only to wealthy, beautiful, smart and prominent people.

To compensate for the defects that I thought were “wrong” in me and for the valuable “good” qualities I thought I lacked in my life, I overworked myself. I tried to prove to myself and to the people around me that I was someone worthy of respect.

There is just one problem with this strategy. It does not work at all. Measuring self-worth and the others’ worth through rubrics of success, intelligence, prestige, social status and capability only make us feel worse in the end. The way through which we can truly see our worth as a person is by acknowledging that our dignity is innate and inviolable. The World Youth Alliance believes this definition, that the dignity of the person is universal, intrinsic and most importantly, “independent of any individual condition.” Therefore, regardless of background, we are worthy of respect simply because we are human persons. No one and nothing can take our worth away from us.

What most attracted me to WYA was its bold aim to promote and defend the dignity of the person. This mission is very close to my heart, not only because I had experienced the void of misunderstanding my own worth as a person for years, but also because I am surrounded with people who do not realize their own worth.  I would like them to know about their dignity, too.

As an intern, I am currently training to become a Dignity Defender, but at the same time, I think I am also one of the millions of young people whom WYA diligently and devotedly stands up for. In fact, WYA stands up for every person. WYA does not stop at defending each person’s dignity, but encourages everyone to even become “a gift of self to others.” For me, this is both the means and the end purpose to authentically realizing our great call as human beings.

I sincerely desire to become this “gift.” I want to become a blessing to others too. But before I can truly become this gift, I have to remind myself every day of my worth and of what I can do for others. I also have to first resolve the issues within my family, myself, and who I want to become in the future. As I continue to rediscover myself and my worth as person, I also long for that moment that I can finally say to my 17-year old self, “Yes, you are right. You will soon feel better.  You will soon learn to love yourself and the others around you more.”

Read more the WYA Charter here and the Declaration of the Human Person here.

By Justine Kristel A. Villegas, a WYA Intern from the Philippines