What does "dignity" mean?Please explain your definition, and not just copy it from Merriam Webster dictionary. Thank you.

Expert Answers
bjs eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dignity is behavior that exemplifies self-value, respect, strength and ethics. It also is connected to intent and purpose. President Kennedy said, “I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose...” (1) Marcus Aurelius said, “...there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life.”

Sometimes circumstances can challenge these things. Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Dignity” where he looks at different slants on dignity in various situations. At the end he wonders what it will take to find dignity.

This is a question that is connected to the definition of “dignity.” How does one find it? If one has a moral code, a higher purpose and a belief in him/herself, this is a strong beginning. If others recognize this in a person, it is reinforced.

The dignity of all is recognized by the United Nations, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” (3)


(1) Address of John F. Kennedy upon accepting the Liberal Party Nomination for President, NY, NY, September 14, 1960

(2) Meditations, IV, 32

(3) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations General Assembly, December 10, 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm not keen on the definitions of 'dignity' that relate too much to propriety and etiquette and ceremony, such as that at funerals, although of course any deceased person and their family deserves respect. I prefer to think of 'dignity' in terrms of the rights of the individual and his innate sense of self-respect.A person who has dignity has had it naturally from birth and spiritual believers would say it is a precious right given by God. Some people squander it, some are forced into compromizing it through utter destitution and this is a crime of which society as a whole is culpable where it concerns cases of children or women or the poor being exploited or violated for the gain of another or just to get food to keep themselves alive. I like the old origin where the word stems from the word 'worthy.' All humans are born with innate dignity and deserve to keep it - some squander it for no reason at all.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think a lot of people, like the person who gave the first answer, see dignity as something really "heavy," having to do with inalienable rights and stuff like that.  I picture that version of dignity as Abe Lincoln -- all melancholy and stiff in a stove pipe hat.

While there is something to that, my personal definition is much less serious.  To me, dignity is always conducting yourself in such a way that you are not ashamed of yourself.  So, skipping down the sidewalk holding hands with your four year-old daughter has dignity.  So does screaming your head off at a sporting event.

The only thing that, to me, lacks dignity is acting in ways that you would not like other people to know about.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Great question. I think dignity comes from knowing who you are, and being comfortable with this. If a person is Christian, then he or she should take pride that they are created in the image of God. If a person is not religion, then that person should be proud that he or she is a human with certain inalienable rights. This will entail not backing down from yourself knowledge, even in the midst of hardships. For example, it should be beneath a person's "dignity" to beg. It should be beneath a person's "dignity" to cheat. Why? There is inherent "dignity" in people. We should uphold this in other and in ourselves.

engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think it depends on what type of dignity we're talking about here. If it's personal dignity, then that form is the degree of self-esteem or the sense of class exhibited by any one person at any given time.

For instance, the queen of England is seen with a great deal of personal dignity, or self-worth. A similar word with the same root is "dignified," meaning polite, appropriate, and adhering to standards and expectations of social grace. People who are dignified are many times considered to have great dignity as a result.