• What is our vision?
• Why are we needed?
• What is particularly useful about our approach?
• What is innovative about our work?
• What are the desired long term outcomes of our work?
• How will we measure the impact of our work?
• What makes us particularly qualified?
• What are our experiences so far with providing our services?
• What major challenges and obstacles do we anticipate to our work?
• We want to work for a cause, and avoid old narrowness
• We want to develop new methods
We live in transition times between an unsustainable present and a vision
- still foggy
- of a more constructive future. Ray and Anderson (2000) describe three scenarios for the future: 1. Falling apart, 2. the highly adaptive world, and 3. muddling our way to transformation.
We, the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies team, are part of a new cultural movement that envisages contributing to the second vision of a future. We hypothesize that the people of this world are indeed capable of cooperating for a better future, that they can solve all the problems that need to be solved, yet, only if we take into account, and avoid, dynamics of humiliation. Nothing hampers and destroys cooperation as effectively as dynamics of humiliation. Particularly therefore, we believe, it is crucial to learn more about the phenomenon of humiliation so as to be able to avoid its negative consequences.
What are the roots of violence, war, genocide, or terrorism? Is it scarcity of resources and the struggle for survival that lead to atrocities? Does poverty create violence? Or is human nature inherently aggressive? New research suggests that increasingly the dynamics of humiliation may figure as "missing link" in the search for root causes, a phenomenon that is gaining ground in tact with growing global interdependence. Today, humankind moves closer together in a place that we call "global village" and people more often than before ask a crucial question: "Do you respect me and my cultural background, or do you look down on me and treat me in humiliating ways?" The consequences of a negative evaluation of the outcome of this question can be tremendous.
We, the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies team, are committed to reducing - and ultimately help eliminating - destructive disrespect and humiliation all over the world. We work in three areas (research, education, and intervention) and at all levels (macro, meso, and micro levels), inspired by universal values such as equality in dignity, humility, mutual respect, caring and compassion, and a sense of shared planetary rights and responsibilities. We generate interdisciplinary research (both intra- and interculturally) and disseminate information aimed at enhancing awareness of human dignity. We also apply creative educational methods and strategies, and devise pilot projects and advise on public policy planning.
Violence, war, and terrorism are pressing problems. Humankind's task is to work for a sustainable future for the "global village," not only ecologically but also socially. Learning peaceful cooperation, particularly in the face of conflict, is at the core of social sustainability.
However, people's ability to cooperate constructively is easily hampered by dynamics of humiliation. History books suggest that Germany was humiliated after World War I and that this led to World War II. This is one of many examples that support our premise that humiliation carries the potential to lead to violence, war and genocide. The example illustrates the urgency of attending to the phenomenon of humiliation - not only academically but also in the field of social intervention. However, humiliation has not been an explicit topic for academic research, neither for public policy planning. Our team is among the handful of insightful individuals, who have started throwing light on the phenomenon and the dynamics of humiliation.
The Marshall Plan embedded Germany as respected member within the European family and, instead of war, Germany promoted peace. If it is true that humiliation can lead to war, while respect may further peace, then the trappings of humiliation have to be understood and prevented from occurring, while respect has to be emphasized and cultivated.
Conflict zones at macro as well as micro levels - be it divorce cases at the family level or the predicament of Northern Ireland or the Middle East - often demonstrate that the solutions, from a contractual point of view, are quite clear. For outsiders the problems often seem trivial. What is failing is the ability of the players to implement the solutions that are on the table, as rational as they may seem. The involved parties smart of wounds; and especially wounds inflicted by humiliation seem to create emotional rifts that are extremely difficult to bridge. Promoting respect and preventing humiliation therefore seems crucial.
So far, the phenomenon of humiliation has not received much attention. Until recently, humiliation was not even an academic term, let alone a topic taken seriously in public policy planning. The Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies team is among the first to highlight humiliation. Human rights ideals of equal human dignity - dignity that ought not be humiliated - are at the core of this innovative focus.
The Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies team aims at inviting scholars and practitioners from around the world to contribute to this new perspective. Since it is new, more innovative research has to be carried out, research which then can be fed into innovative public policy strategies and innovative intervention projects. We aim to be a driving force and a platform not only for such research and education, but also for innovative public policy planning and pilot projects that carry the concept of respect for equal human dignity into society.
Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies wish to contribute to building decency, globally and locally. Avishai Margalit wrote The Decent Society (1996), where he stipulates that it is not sufficient to aim at just society. Decent society has to be built, society that is characterized by institutions that embody respect instead of humiliation.
Our team thinks that decency and humility are crucial for long term sustainability (both socially and ecologically). We want to promote a decent "global village" based on human rights ideals, where everybody, irrespective of gender, color, ethnicity, religion or ability, experiences respect for equal dignity. Yet, human rights ideals are relatively new; it was long regarded to be "nature's order" that higher beings dominated lesser beings. We live in times of a human rights revolution which will take many generations to gain more ground. We wish to contribute with research, education, and intervention on micro, meso, and macro levels; research is designed to feed into practice and the other way round. None can exist without the other.
Sociologist Neil J. Smelser, with his value added theory (or strain theory), analyzes what is necessary for a new social movement to emerge:
1. Structural conduciveness – things that make or allow certain behaviors possible (e.g. spatial proximity).
2. Structural strain – something (inequality, injustice) must strain society.
3. Generalized belief and explanation – participants have to come to an understanding of what the problem is.
4. Precipitating factors – spark to ignite the flame.
5. Mobilization for action – people need to become organized.
6. Failure of social control –authorities not clamping down (see, e.g., Swedberg, Richard (1990). Economics and Sociology: Redefining Their Boundaries: Conversations With Economists and Sociologists. Princenton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
We, as HumanDHS, address all six points:
1. We use the structural conduciveness of the internet.
2. We react to structural strain (humiliation fueling terrorism, for example, or humiliation causing general well-being to diminish).
3. We contribute to efforts to develop a shared understanding of what the problem is (we begin with what Ray & Anderson call the Cultural Creatives).
4. We try to ignite the “flame” of dignity,
5. and mobilize action,
6. while using the inclusive approach that human rights call for.
If we take the example of the peacekeeping, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies could introduce training programs for soldiers so as to train them how to treat people with respect. The effect of such an intervention could be evaluated; one of our group members, Linda Hartling, has developed an instrument for measuring humiliation.
However, the ultimate eradication of humiliation would only be achieved by viable and sustainable peace, when conflicts no longer are addressed by violence but by constructive cooperation and decent institutions. In conflict regions such as the Middle East good solutions exist; however, the players' ability to implement them seems to be failing. Experiences of humiliation often incapacitate people's ability to cooperate. Therefore, addressing, healing and preventing dynamics of humiliation could open new channels for cooperation. This could be measured in tact with the proceeding peace process.
Evelin Lindner is the initiator of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies. Her life has evolved as a "project" designed to address the "never again" that emerged after the World Wars of the last century. Her studies and work have always had as central goal to contribute to building a global human community where people live in constructive relations with each other and with their natural environment. In order to express global citizenship in her own life, she is living globally, continuously spending time with people in different parts of the world and cultures, being at home on the planet and not in any specific place. Her identity of being a global citizen is thus not merely abstract, but deeply lived. Her global goals now converge in developing Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies as a field and a team.
The Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies team includes scholars and practitioners characterized by a particular sensitivity to humility and respect for shared humanity and equal dignity. The "Mandela way" out of humiliation requires great personal maturity. It is not easy to refrain from the "Hitler way" of lashing out with violence against perceived humiliation. The Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies team is formed by individuals of great personal maturity, with a profound ability to tame not least their own aggressions and channel them constructively. The team members are aware of human weaknesses such as wanting to deny own shortcomings instead of working with them, or wishing to scapegoat others instead of facing difficult work.
Our team aims at embodying a model of the organization of the future, where mature and grown-up people create flat hierarchies and develop new forms of communication. Often, organizations who engage in protesting against social ills tear themselves apart with the same aggression that they develop against their "enemies." We attempt to live what we preach and entertain respect for equal human dignity among us and towards those we deal with. We do not wish to peddle images of "us" versus "enemies," but work for new communication styles of inclusive decency, among ourselves and with others. See Lindner, Evelin Gerda (2002). Healing the cycles of humiliation: How to attend to the emotional aspects of "unsolvable" conflicts and the use of "humiliation entrepreneurship". In Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 8 (2), 125-139.
Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies aim at promoting equal dignity, decency, moderation and humility, instead of acts and structures of humiliation. We aim at humbling abusers of power, however, without humiliating them, and empowering underlings without instigating violence.
There is a "Mandela way" out of humiliation and a "Hitler way." We are committed to promoting the "Mandela way." This commitment has two outcomes. Firstly, it furthers constructive social change without violence since it helps people to go beyond urges of lashing out in violence against perceived injustice and humiliation. However, secondly, it brings us in opposition to extremists who wish to divide the world in "friends" and "enemies" and who do not accept moderates like us working for an inclusive "global village" where all human beings can live decent lives. Thus, our experience so far shows that the way to decency, peace, and justice is made difficult by extremists, or fervent "humiliation-entrepreneurs."
Engaging in moderation, humility, and respect for equal human dignity is deeply challenging. It requires the maturity of a Mandela. It is easier to respond to humiliation with violent humiliation-for-humiliation in Hitler-like ways or by waging terror. It is not only easier; it also is an age-old tradition. Traditionally, societies were characterized by hierarchical structures, with strong-men [indeed, mostly men] often inflicting humiliating domination onto underlings.
Modern cooperative teams, in contrast, aim at creatively navigating a globally interdependent information society. This requires far superior communication skills, personal maturity, and a decent global village based on human rights as backdrop. Outdated are such divisive habits as propping up "us" against "them" and polarizing "friends" against "enemies." Yet, moderate peacemakers risk being affronted or even killed by extremists. Extremist Hutus killed moderate Hutus, not only Tutsis, and peacemakers such as Gandhi, Anwar Sadat or Yitzchak Rabin were assassinated by their own extremists.
Please see also our newsletters, where we discuss our challenges, for example:
Newsletter Nr. 6, "What We Try to Achieve"
Is it Possible to "Change the World"? Some Guidelines to How We Can Build a More Decent and Dignified World Effectively: The Case of Dignifying Abusers by Evelin Lindner, 2006
"The End of the Organization?" by Michael C. Gilbert, in Nonprofit Online News, February 7th, 2008.
We want to avoid the protest-orientation and narrowness of many movements in the past. We wish to work more for a new future and less against old structures, and we wish to build bridges to widen our approach. Ray and Anderson address against/for orientations in their book Cultural Creatives (2000): "The old political movement pattern that was evident in the 1960s was built around opposition and conflict. Some observers will talk about protest movements as if what defines a movement is what it's against. In almost every social movement, you knew who you were by what you were opposed to, or what you hated, and you knew who your friends and allies were, too. Gradually, the basis of collective identity has shifted from protest to a positive agenda and a vision of the future. It took a decade or two for the antiwar movement to redefine itself as a peace movement, and for the women's movement to outgrow blaming, even hating, men and decide what it was for...." (Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2000, page 210).
Ray and Anderson also address old narrowness: "... like the three Bigs government, corporations, and media many of the politically based social movements themselves are still caught in narrow, specialized viewpoints. Many still operate as if they were mom-and-pop stores selling just to their own neighborhood: cultivating a constituency, honing issues they can call their own, and emphasizing how unique they are in their fund-raising letters and other publications. They do this in part because each organization tends to believe that it is in competition with all the others for a limited supply of volunteers, funds, and even media coverage.
Some activists seem content just to protest and stop there, without going on to do economic analyses or conduct a political negotiation. Yet Cultural Creatives say that protest is not enough, that new institutions need to be built to uproot problems before they start, and that they won't support groups unless they have positive agendas for the future.
Finally, a movement may overemphasize what it opposes because a number of activists still believe that political protest in what really counts in changing society. They are convinced that the real purpose of the movement lies in its media-bedecked and hard-won political accomplishments. They overlook the power of the great currents of change set in motion by the movement's cultural arm" (Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2000, page 229).
"The way it's done by experts" might be counterproductive for promoting the goals of groups such as HumanDHS. Old methods do not work for new goals and values. People being addressed with slick advertising in direct mail may lose interest in the contents of such advertising. "The genuine connection, the sense of being recognized as a member of a shared community, is lost" (Ray and Anderson, 2000, p. 234).