Book Review — Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict
By Eric Davis | Parishscope, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Middlebury, VT
Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict, by Donna Hicks. 221 pages. Yale University Press. $18.00
Donna Hicks, of Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, will be the guest speaker at this fall’s Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. Hicks is an expert on conflict resolution. She has worked in troubled places all over the world, including the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Colombia, and Northern Ireland. She has also consulted for many businesses and other organizations in the United States.
Several videos in which Hicks explains her work are available online, particularly on Harvard’s YouTube channel. I would also recommend the two-part BBC documentary Facing the Truth, a series of discussions between perpetrators and victims of violence in Northern Ireland that Hicks co-moderated along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Dignity is a natural right, the right of all people to be treated as individuals of inherent worth.
In Dignity, the book she will be discussing at Convention, Hicks argues that a first step to resolving many conflicts, not only among nations, but also in businesses, complex non-profits, and churches and other voluntary organizations, is treating all participants with the dignity they deserve. Dignity is a natural right, the right of all people to be treated as individuals of inherent worth.
Offering care and attention to all participants in a conflict-ridden situation is a prerequisite to making progress in resolving that conflict. Much of Hicks’ book consists of examples of situations in which persons were not treated with dignity, and how organizational leaders can correct those situations. Hicks’ approach is very similar to that practiced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, the post-apartheid restorative justice body that was chaired by Archbishop Tutu.
Treating everyone with dignity is obviously part of Jesus’ command to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). But is there more?
I will be one of St. Stephen’s delegates to Convention, and am looking forward to hearing Hicks’ presentation and to talking with her. In particular, I am interested in the application of her model to the message of Jesus in today’s world. Treating everyone with dignity is obviously part of Jesus’ command to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). But is there more?
Hicks is trained in psychology, and looks at the question of dignity from the individual perspective. How can each one of us be sure to treat every other person with dignity? But are institutions and organizations part of the problem here too? Are there certain societal arrangements, whether political, economic, or historic, that make the affirmation of dignity more or less likely?
If so, is there a role for the Church to play in bringing these arrangements to the attention of society, and, if necessary, altering them? Is doing so part of the message of Jesus, God’s message, for today’s world? Is transmitting such a message inherently part of proclaiming the Gospel, and moving closer to the realization of the Kingdom of God here on earth in our own time? I look forward to discussing these questions with Donna Hicks and other delegates at Convention.