Experimental and field evidence shows that efforts to regain dignity come in two flavors: healthy and unhealthy. Some individuals build on personal assets and social resources to become resilient. Others, in turn, become more impulsive, sacrifice long term goals for immediate gratification, seek refuge in gangs and even resort to violence. They are trying to achieve dignity, but in destructive ways. In the words of a former gang member: “When I was 18, I thought it was cool to be a gang banger. Everyone gave you respect, girls were always around and money was easy.”
Like a secure attachment and a sense of belonging, the need for dignity is an essential part of feeling valued. These desires meet, respectively, survival, social, and existential needs. Evolution has led us not only to seek survival and connections, but also a feeling of humanity, which is what dignity is about. Unless we feel valued, by ourselves and others, we cannot feel like we matter.
Isaac Prilleltensky is an award-winning academic and humor writer. His latest books, The Laughing Guide to Change, and The Laughing Guide to a Better Life, co-authored with Ora Prilleltensky, combine humor with science.