Wednesday 16th October marked the 6th Annual Global Dignity Day, highlighting the importance and fundamental right of every human being to live a dignified life. This year’s Global Dignity Day was celebrated in over 50 countries across the world including the UK, where the Global Dignity Day movement was led by Just For Kids Law, another organisation led by an Ashoka UK Fellow.
The Reader Organisation partnered with Just For Kids Law to mark Global Dignity Day 2013 in the UK. Throughout Global Dignity Week (14th-18th October) each of our shared reading Project Workers chose a piece of prose of poetry that touched upon the concept of dignity and shared reading and discussion with their group members about what dignity means to them individually. We have found in our weekly shared reading groups that great literature represents the spectrum of human condition and emotion, with the matter of dignity being a significant part of this.
From a wide range of shared reading groups across the country, our facilitators fed back to us about the literature they chose and their groups’ subsequent discussions of dignity. Here is a selection offering a snapshot of how our groups across the UK celebrated Dignity Week:
Poem: Affinity by R.S. Thomas, read in chronic pain setting
“The group took some time to think what the man in the poem might be up to, after which one member simply repeated the words ‘furrow by furrow’ joined by another echoing back to ‘Without joy, without sorrow’ in answer. We talked a lot about what it might mean to live this way, with someone offering in response, ‘if you’re not feeling you’re not alive…’ This troubled us, particularly when considering the lines: ‘A vague somnambulist: but hold your tears/For his name also is written in the Book of Life’.
One lady ventured, ‘a life is like a page in a book’, which got us thinking about whether any one life was better than another and if anyone ever really stood in isolation, though it can certainly feel that way at times.”
“It seemed as if every line had something that caught someone’s imagination. Perhaps most poignantly, the idea of seeing everything you’ve lived for breaking down was very real for many on the ward. And the staff member identified with ‘Keeping your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.’
‘And walk with kings, nor lose the common touch’ appealed to one lady strongly. ‘That’s about remembering where you’ve come from.’ Recognising Triumph and Disaster as impostors also made us think. ‘You do your best, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.’ And we wondered if Kipling would have ended it differently nowadays: ‘You’ll be a human being my son’ rather than ‘You’ll be a man…’. Or, ‘You’ll have it cracked!’
Normally our session ends at 12 for lunch, but today the ladies let the food go cold, and we ran over for a quarter of an hour. One young woman took a copy of the poem to put in a memory box she was making for her son.”
Poem: Invictus by William Ernest Henley, read in Criminal Justice setting
“Someone notes that all the last lines of each verse are positive: ’unconquerable soul’, ‘bloody but unbowed’, ‘shall find me unafraid’, ‘captain of my soul’. We read the last lines of each stanza as a little poem of its own. Then someone says ‘that’s about dignity’.
L says she really likes the last two lines – everyone agrees – she says it seems to be about us being powerful or in control. It fits with the unconquerable bit. Even though he’s bludgeoned and bloody he’s unbowed.”
Such discussions are just a few examples of what proved to be a thought-provoking and inspiring week, that gave us much to consider about the concept of dignity in all its forms.
Though Global Dignity Week has passed, there’s always time to reflect and think about what dignity means to each of us in our lives – especially through literature. Take a read of one poem that can be considered to reflect significantly on one man’s sense of personal dignity, I Am by John Clare.
You can also find out about the wider celebrations of Global Dignity Day in the UK on the Just For Kids Law website, including two specially composed original poems for Global Dignity Day 2013 by Francesca Beard and Josh Solnick.