We celebrated our daughter’s 15th birthday yesterday. Jarah is such a blessing. She displays an innate quality that is much needed today, dignity. Dignity is the state or quality of being worthy of honor and respect. Jarah treats everyone with dignity. Her name is a gender-neutral name of Arabic origin that means boldness, bravery. She loves that about her name. Dignity + Boldness + Bravery = Jarah.
Her middle name is taken from my mother’s maiden name, Hanna. Our family is of Syrian descent and my maternal grandfather, Makeul (Essey) Hanna, immigrated to the U.S. from Damascus, Syria via at Ellis Island on September 20, 1920, at the age of 22. I was only two months old when he died and I regret never having the opportunity to speak with him. My mom tells stories about my jiddu (Syrian for grandfather) that affirm the type of man he was. After settling in Donora, PA, he became a washing machine repair man and opened up a Maytag store on Main Street. He was a hard worker and no work was beneath him. He would go out of his way to help people and make them feel valued, honored, and respected. It seems like Jarah takes after her great jiddu.
Dignity is what’s missing in today’s conversation about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. If we talk about the dignity of every human being, then racism is clearly evil. It’s clearly a sin. I thought we knew this and it didn’t have to be said. I was wrong.
It has to be said because every person you and I have ever met is made in God’s image and likeness, whether they’re a good person or a bad person. Because everyone is made in God’s image and likeness, I don’t need the details of someone’s life to know that they’re worth loving and that they deserve dignity.
To quote C.S. Lewis, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
In other words, any person you meet, no matter old or young, no matter what sex they are, no matter what race they are, ethnicity, socioeconomic class … we conduct all of our dealings with one another like this … every friendship, every love, every play, every politics … there are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is with immortals that we joke. It is with immortals that we work. It is an immortal person that you marry, or that you snub, or that you exploit, or we just pass by and don’t treat like they are made in God’s image and likeness. Or, it is an immortal person that we just simply allow to be exploited or treated in a way that violates who they truly are.
This begs the question … how do we heal racial divides?
If I’m made in God’s image and likeness then that shapes the way I see myself and changes the way I see other people because they are made in His image and likeness too. I don’t need to know the details of their lives to know they are worth loving and deserve dignity.
I didn’t enslave someone, but if I can help them out of slavery, then that’s my duty. I didn’t do anything to oppress anyone, but if I see someone oppressed, then I need to do something about it. Why? Because that’s my job. I’m made in God’s image and likeness and they’re made in God’s image and likeness.
If I see injustice (sin), then I may not be the cause of their injustice (sin), but if I can do something about it, then I have to because I’m made in God’s image and likeness and I have to love even if it’s not my fault. This imperative applies to people of all color, class, or culture.
Would it be a bad idea to incorporate the word Dignity into our conversation?