In its philosophical approach, the concern of WYA’s Certified Training Program (CTP) is the concept of the dignity of the human person, and how that dignity is lived out in freedom, culture, and solidarity, with the contention that the truth of man is fundamentally connected to this dignity that he possesses. The question that naturally arises is: how does one define the dignity of the person? This is a hard question. We kind of all implicitly know that it exists and what it is, but actually putting it into words, such that it includes everyone no matter individual condition or circumstance, is a much harder challenge.
The following statement provides us with a good starting definition: dignity is a value that is intrinsic (possessed by the person simply in virtue of the fact that he is a person, the person cannot be conceptualized without this value), inviolable (can’t be given or taken away, not dependent on individual condition or circumstance), and universal (includes everyone). However, what is the point of a definition if it is not backed by reality or our experience of reality? My personal experience of reality supports this definition.
It’s hard to say when I first discovered that I had dignity. I always knew that humans are worth more than animals and should be treated as such. I guess you could say that I had a value response ingrained in me from a very young age. The Catholic faith was also very important to me growing up and all aspects of it pointed to the fact that each and every person has dignity. The very word “Catholic” means universal. Studying philosophy and theology revealed that, not only are we rational creatures, but through our rationality we share a likeness to the divine; that each and every person has a divine spark within them, something that transcends the physical reality in which we live. This transcendence is the source of our infinite lovability and our capability to infinitely love.
When I came to learn of the World Youth Alliance, I had been really struggling with an understanding of personal dignity. I had previously worked with another organization. From the beginning of my time there I felt unwanted and unuseful. They curtailed my agency. When they finally removed me from the team, I was devastated. What was particularly devastating for me was the way in which it happened. Whenever I asked why I was being removed from team, I was given a different answer. Needless to say, I felt lied to, and none of my teammates who had claimed to be my brothers and sisters and friends stood up for me.
Moving on from there, I eventually found myself up in D.C. taking care of my grandmother. My grandma is a great person and I enjoyed taking care of her. However, the environment of D.C. and some of my family are rather negative. Also, my position of both being a family member and my grandmother’s caretaker put me in a difficult situation and I felt my agency was once again being restricted. That was when I heard of WYA.
Being with WYA has definitely restored a sense of self-worth to me, by providing me anew with an experience of my own dignity in solidarity with others. Coming to the ELC last year was the best decision I could have made. At the ELC, I was not only respected, I was also given a new perspective on the problems I faced, such as microaggressions, ideology, and totalitarianism in our own society. I had longed for this respect for a long time. Nobody cared that I had a disability. I was treated the same as everyone else, and experienced in a very real way the experience of solidarity–of inclusion-with people.
The best way that I can think of to define solidarity is with an analogy. Solidarity is the act of holding someone’s hand through everything, including pain and suffering. One of the lines of my favorite songs goes, “There is a mother with her child in hand that shows this world how to be.” I once met a girl who suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome, and it was in encountering her that I had the most profound experience of solidarity, in a special way. We completely understood each other’s experiences of having a disability and how difficult it is for others to understand what it is like. We were able to relate and take on each other’s sufferings as our own.
Solidarity grows out of a common bond in which all men share. This bond is forged by the value that each person recognizes in the other, in who they are as persons, in the sufferings which they have braved. The ELC and CTP provided me a framework and a conceptual context from which to work, one that is founded on the dignity, the intrinsic value, of each and every person, one that is a culture of life and founded upon inviolable freedom and solidarity of which every human person partakes.
Written by Aaron Stolle, a 2016 batch 3 North America intern.