Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Dignity Model in Social Work

The international peace mediator Donna Hicks works as a professor at "the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs" at Harvard University. She has a master's degree in social work and a doctorate in developmental psychology. She has for the past 20 years been involved in international conflict resolution and added to facilitate dialogue between communities in conflict in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Cuba and Northern Ireland. She has several times worked closely with Desmond Tutu. In the book "Dignity. The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict " this social worker, with a vast international experience in dealing with conflicts, developed what she calls a world model for conflict resolution. I believe that this model has much to teach us as social workers in social work practice about how we need to rehabilitate the "social" in social work.

Art on a brick wall in a Brazilian favela

Donna Hicks states that it important to understand that all people deserve that their dignity be respected. However, it is problematic that we act in ways which violates the dignity of other people. Such actions may make it difficult for us to respect the violators because of what they have done. We must therefore distinguish between the person and their actions. The assertion "all people deserve respect, but a person's actions deserves respect depending upon whether the action is good or not" is complicated. To argue that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity is not complicated. Dignity is an inherent human right. To treat others with dignity is the basis of our interaction with others. "A person is a person through other people together". We need to treat other people, no matter who they are, in a way that they understand that they mean something to us, that they are worthy of our care and attention. To treat others in a degrading way because they have done something wrong, initiating an unworthy spiral where pain becomes even worse. We see this in our families when we raise our children, when we are arguing with a spouse, partner or friend. We see it at work in relation to clients, patients, families, colleagues and management. We see it in politics, in society, in business. And we see it in international conflicts. The same mechanisms always take place when we treat others with indignity.

In practical social work, we regularly meet people who have had their dignity violated. In our interactions with injured people, it is important that we show respect for their suffering by providing the attention they deserve so that the suffering will subside and can be put aside and life can be lived on. To work with relationships where both the violator and the injured ask for reconciliation, it is important to give both parties the opportunity to be seen, recognized and understood. They must be given control by letting them say what they want. An important prerequisite for healing a violated dignity is to create an opportunity for both parties to change. Create a process that is humane and non-judgmental. Let the violator hear the voice of the injured party in their own words, what losses they have suffered, the shock they have experienced, emotions, disbelief and anger. When a person violates another person's dignity, the injured person is treated as an object by the violator, and also treats onself as an object. The promise of dignity is almost magical becaus by treating others with dignity, one recieves dignity back again. Donna Hicks has said that using her "the dignity model" in international conflicts for 20 years and she has gained great recognition. She has in her work defined ten basic elements of dignity. I will now review these and consider them as basic social measures we can take to work with dignity in social work practice.

Ten basic elements of dignity:

 1. Acceptance of identity 
Meet other persons with the attitude that they are neither better or worse than you. Give others the freedom to express who they really are without fear of being negatively evaluated. Try to interact without prejudice, and try to accept the ways in which religion, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, and disability are reflected in others' identities. Assume that others have integrity. 
2. Inclusion 
Let others to feel welcome, whatever the conditions, whether they are part of your family, community, organization or nation. 
3. Security 
Give others a feeling of security on two levels: physical and psychological. Physical so that they feel safe from bodily harm, and psychologically so that they feel safe from being humiliated. Through these two levels people are helped to feel free to speak without fear of reprisal. 
4. Acknowledgment 
Give people attention by listening, hearing, give confirmation, and respond to their concerns, feelings and experiences. 
5. Recognition 
Praise other people for their skills, efforts, dedication and help. Be generous with praise and gratitude and appreciation to others for their contributions and ideas. 
6. Fairness 
Treat people fairly, with equal rights, and in a timely manner in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. People feel that their dignity is honored when they are treated without discrimination or injustice. 
7. Let the doubt on others to succeed 
Treat others as trustworthy individuals. Start with the assumption that others have good motives and act with integrity. 
8. Understanding 
Show that what other believe is important. Give others the chance to explain and express their views. Show active listening to understand the other person. 
9. Empowerment 
Encourage others to act independently, so they feel in control of their lives and experience a sense of hope and possibility. 
10. Accountability 
Take responsibility for your own actions. If you have violated the dignity of another person, expressed a regret, say your sorry. Express a commitment to change behavior that is harmful. 

Let me end where I began, that we can learn from the indigenous people of their understanding that we are all in a dependence to one another and to nature around us. This dependence on each other is called Ubuntu in the African Nguni language. A person is a person through another person. I am a human because I belong to the whole, society, tribe, nation, world. Ubuntu is about wholeness and to nurture life. We meet as social workers daily examples of what dignity is. We have to be better to see this dignity and not see us blind on acts of indignity. We need knowledge, awareness and skills in order not to violate the dignity of others. In social work practice, it is important that we know how to heal a hurt dignity. To treat others with dignity is the basis of our interaction with others as social workers in social work practice.

Art on a brick wall in a Brazilian favela
 Kaare T. Pettersen

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