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40 Days: Dignity


Welcome to 40 Days, a reflective journey for Eureka Street subscribers beginning Ash Wednesday and running through until Easter. Each week we’ll bring you a reflection on a theme, followed by some reading from our archives to help you reflect more deeply throughout the week. You might read them all at once, or sample one each day of Lent.

Our third reflection is from Andrew Hamilton SJ, and explores the theme of ‘Dignity’, what it means to see someone as fully human, and broadening our view of those with whom we disagree. 



'Standing on your dignity' suggests a comic image of someone perched alone and offended on a soapbox in the midst of an unheeding crowd going about their daily business.

There is, however, a better and more down to earth image for standing on your dignity. It is of strangers gathered barefoot at a beach enjoying one another's company and hospitality, unknowing of their status, wealth, and origin. They stand on their naked dignity as human beings which they share with all other people.

Of course, of the two senses of human dignity, the first is the most practised. Barefooted romping with strangers on the beach is strictly for holiday time when the strangers are in any case likely to be similar in background.

In our more routine lives, most of us have people and groups whom we ignore, we instinctively look down on and we keep away from. In these attitudes, human dignity begins with the shoes of respectability, race, background and other qualities, not with bare feet. 

We are fortunate if sometimes, to our shame, we recognise that a person whom we have avoided or dismissed is more intelligent, reflective and courageous than ourselves. That rueful self-awareness can lead to our taking off our overshoes. We also need to be attentive to the people who are commonly regarded as second-class citizens. The aftermath of the Referendum has shown how non-Indigenous Australians have so often stood on their dignity in treating their Indigenous brothers and sisters as less human than themselves. 

Of course, most of us have also stood on our dignity when confronted with people whose beliefs we scorn. We put them into a capitalised box: The Conservatives or The Communists, The Israelis or The Gazans, The Real or The Fake Christians, The Progressives or The Trump Voters. 

In the archives of Eureka Street, many articles attend to the groups in Australia and the world whose dignity as human beings is not always recognised. They include Indigenous Australians, refugees, prisoners, children in the justice system. These articles contribute to a conversation in which we all come to respect bare feet and broaden our view of those with whom we disagree. Not a bad Lenten discipline. 




The refugee children of colonisation

Andrew Hamilton SJ writes, ‘Underlying the toxic colonial culture in Australia so well described by Silverstein is a deeper and more universal blight. I believe that it lies in the instrumental ethics that weighs policy by assessing the greatest good of the greatest number without respect for the dignity of each human being. This justifies making the harsh treatment of persons the means to a larger goal, in this case of control.’ [From 2023]

Read more here. 


The spirit of the Way

Michael McGirr writes, ‘The Way was a so-called wet house, accommodating men unable to loosen the grip that alcohol had on their lives. Our guys were often a mess but the whole ethos of The Way was about what we shared with them, not what made us different. For a naïve and self-important young man in his twenties, it was confronting. It took me years to appreciate the spirituality of the place and its relationship to compulsive behaviour. In some ways, I still hide from it. It requires more honesty than I am usually able to muster.’ [From 2022]

Read more here. 


When kindness takes over from love

Jennifer Sinclair writes, ‘You can't know which memories are going to last, and for how long, and which are going to fade. You can't rely on her to know who you are when you come to visit or to call you by your name. It may be your sister's or her sister's. And she may tell you when you visit, as she does on this occasion, that she has seen no-one at all since she's been here.’ [From 2006]

Read more here. 


I am unashamedly pro-life, but let me tell you what that means

Beth Doherty writes, ‘Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister in an interview in 2004 argued... ‘I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed’.’ [From 2022]

Read more here. 


Pilgrims walk with the shadow of Church abuse

Ailsa Piper writes, ‘I've always had a pull toward the numinous, and felt a wish to serve, but through my teen years discord grew between those yearnings and the Catholic Church. It said it welcomed everyone equally, and yet treated me differently to my brother. Why, I wondered, were women not able to be priests, or take leadership positions in Catholic hierarchy? Why were gay friends not welcomed fully? Why was it that men who wanted to serve as priests couldn't have partners or families if they wished?’ [From 2013]

Read more here. 



A place where story and song make race and recrimination obsolete

Brian Doyle writes, ‘In college, I kept thinking that power had to do with bodies, and that girls were impressed with muscles, and that burliness led to success, and it took forever for me to realise that this was a lie, and that women were really after hearts they could trust. Plus I started noticing that often the men and women who were most influential, most startling, most amazing—most powerful, really—were, by pretty much every definition of powerful, powerless.’ [From 2006]

Read more here. 





Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: (Getty images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, 40 Days, Lent, Dignity



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