Understanding Dignity

Helping others may give you purpose and you may find meaning from it. It is a fundamental part of humanity. But do you think it is possible to over do things? Does “over-helping” exist?

Of course it does!

Everyone deserves dignity, and certainly, helping while imposing your values on others — because you help them — can impair autonomous decision making, and harm the whole community. When you help others out of pity, it also affects their self-worth, and this can be seen in how some people on long aid can be stuck in a negative spiral with low self-esteem.

Treating other people with dignity means treating them the way we’d like to be treated ourselves. I have observed many corporate giving and charities – interested in only the giving and ignoring the impact caused by the giving. I would say that their thoughts and resources may be needed, but the approach needs to have a major overhaul.

Working in many post disaster areas, I’ve seen how International aid can destroy local economies and Eco-systems. The massive amounts of free food imported and donated creates a situation where local farmers cannot sell their crops. Earthquakes do not damage farms, at least, not as much as the foreign food aid.

A log of times, some government run welfare organization or large charities will label marginalized people as “helpless”, “needy” and “underprivileged”. However, these labels are also often used to encapsulate entire communities like the disability community.

Being viewed as pitiful, helpless and financially dependent, stereotyped as welfare recipients or associated with tales of tragedy is humiliating. This is also not a positive or accurate portrayal of the vast majority of people with disabilities. Such views also create a divide and can create a negative perception towards the disabled community which will create biases and prejudice.

Our views on refugees from various advertisements paint a bleak picture of the future of refugees. Refugees are also viewed negatively and create low self-esteem among them. This portrayal is not helpful as it creates depression with the “refugees” label among the refugees. Not all refugees are equal. Many refugees from Eastern Europe and more recently, Syria, have resources and skills. Thinking of them as needy, helpless people does not help their situation at all.

Our biases shapes our solutions

When you think of Refugees as “helpless” or “needy”, you do not expect much from them and simply find ways to give them things which you think they need. Most of the time, the focus is more in the giving and helping, and little on engagement on finding out what they need most.

I’ve worked with Syrian Refugees, Survivors of Natural Disasters and various other internally displaced people, and I must clarify one thing — these are not helpless or needy people at all. In post disaster areas, these people are survivors, who despite the conditions, are still thriving. There may be some resources that they are lacking at the moment, but they certainly do not need most of the things given to them.

In Haiti, there are so many things given to the 2010 earthquake survivors. I’ve seen stacks of Yoga mats given to each family — so much that they can use it as a bed. Do not think that your donations do not do harm – on the contrary, disaster areas with damaged waste management logistics will face a bigger issue when aid is dumped on them. They may need water, but dumping bottled water into rural communities will create a plastic waste problem that can easily turn into a dengue or malaria problem.

A lot of Syrian refugees are actually skilled. Many of them have degrees and speak multiple languages, certainly no the helpless and needy refugees depicted in many ads. But when we think of them as helpless and needy, we do not give them what then need — jobs and opportunities to contribute to society.

In helping, we need to preserve dignity. Corporation may think they are doing good by giving food to the box collectors or people living in one room flats, but with poor coordination and execution, many of the recipients do not actually need the food and it ends up wasting food.

Doing Charity and having good intentions is desirable, but without engagement, poor communications can result in misunderstanding and the beneficiary losing their dignity and self worth. This is worse when the donor does it out of pity, and expects some kind of gratitude from the engagement.

Poor people are not stupid. They lack money, connections and resources. Many people may have fallen through the cracks and landed in a bad situation, but they certainly do not need your pity.

The problem with some CSR programs or charities trying to continuously provide aid and support is that you can give food, money and shelter, but you can never provide dignity that way. Fighting depression and a whole list of other problems, a simple action of giving food does not solve their problems and can worsen depression.

Understanding Dignity is important when it comes of a sustainable CSR program with the community and we look at ways to empower communities to solve their problems, but just provide aid to plug the holes. Successful programs need to get the communities out of the situation, rather than add more people into the programs with the situations worsening.

Remember: Treating other people with dignity means treating them the way we’d like to be treated ourselves. As dignity is one of the most important things to the human spirit.