George and Ira Gershwin’s 1937 jazz song introduced by Fred Astaire in the film Shall We Dance welcomes us into this month’s exploration. While I am not intimately familiar with the movie, in this context, what can’t they take away from me? My dignity. Your dignity. Their dignity.
Dignity abides in the interiors of our whole body vessel. We access our dignity by paying attention to the spine and the back line of our body from the back of the neck to the lower sacrum. Try it right now.
You might notice that your spine naturally elongates, your chest opens and your lower body roots closer to the ground. Our body – embodies – dignity, a natural truth of our human existence. As we continue to explore and gain practice in our own dignity this year, let’s look at the ways dignity can be falsely stripped from us in times of vulnerability.
In our birth family, it is common for our dignity to be tampered with, as parents and perhaps siblings address situations where their own sense of dignity is being challenged. Often power, force, and unconscious patterns are used to protect a sense of self-respect in desperation, fear or confusion. Most of us have encountered those moments with family members where we were told to “shut-up,” or perhaps physically shoved or spanked, or verbally abused, or even subtle shaming. The possibilities of disrespect in family life are endless, unfortunately. It is in the family situation where we may have our first occurrences of disrespect. As the youngest of four children, I was often on the disrespectful receiving end of slams from my parents and siblings. My parents did the best they could and the lack of care for each other trickled down the line.
Recently, I was in a heated discussion with my sister, five years older than me. The argument was intense and I stayed present in my spine, noticing the tension of the moment as well as the history of being the youngest and doing what she instructed – without regard for my needs or desires as an adolescent. But as an adult, I stood my ground, so to speak. I spoke my truth. I did not waver. My body held me in my dignity. My respect was not “taken away from me” – respect can never be taken away when we abide in our truth. The outcome offered us a new experience of connection and support, which would not have been available had I repeated an old undignified pattern.
In school we have another place where dignity gets taunted, by unskillful teachers and classmates. The scenes look like bullying from our peers and perhaps humiliation from teachers. If our dignity is trampled in grade school, the probability is high for junior high and high school to be equally as difficult. Like parents, teachers are doing their best and our social groups are navigating the complexities of growing up in a challenging world. School is a breeding ground for competition. In present day, new systems such as group learning have been introduced as superior ways of learning and growing together. I imagine that this shift has supported dignity. But in my day, academics were a race. I never fell in love with learning, despite my longing to be engaged. It was not until my career began that I found stimulating and inviting ways to grow and thrive, holding my dignity. In grade school through my undergrad, I was often scared. At those times I outsourced my dignity to teachers, friends, sorority sisters, and classmates, those to whom I wanted to connect and gain acceptance. When I outsourced dignity, I lost a healthy sense of self and my ground of being.
Money is another breeding ground for humiliation and decreased confidence. Yet, my sense is that our ability to attend to money dignity is different from other devaluing experiences of dignity. As we develop and grow up as adults, we are invited to reflect on and address childhood wounds, and much of what we experience in family and childhood are common areas for exploration and healing in multiple therapeutic settings. However, money morphs into a different twist. Our society doesn’t know how to attend to money dignity. It’s very elusive. Financial professionals have tried to address these issues with money psychology, behavioral finance, money therapy and more, but just tending to the hurt does not build dignity.
Money dignity requires four components that spiral together and build on each other. First, we face the limiting money beliefs and stories that have held us hostage. Second, we gain knowledge about finances to navigate the modern world in which we live. Third, we gain access and tend to the felt sense in our bodies that hold the money stories, financial knowledge and intuitive wisdom. Fourth, as all of those muscles are strengthened, our dignity begins to shape, and eventually soar. We slowly, carefully, and intentionally build the essence of our inherent dignity—abiding along our backline—connecting our belly and heart. Just recognizing the history of how we developed limiting money habits is not enough to build dignity. Just knowing how to make financial decisions is not enough to build dignity. The way dignity is built and sustained is through gaining insight, understanding and healing, then taking action as a doorway to the true essence of our dignity, which is always held in the body.
Once embodied, they can’t take that way from me, or you, or anyone—and that’s the perfection of body wisdom.
Practicing embodied dignity,