May 1st, 2012
Listening is the first tool in proving our immediate and lasting worth to our neighbors—locally and globally. Here is another instrument for empathy: affirming the value of all of our neighbors and helping them to feel good about themselves. It is all about dignity. It is all about treating others with the same respect with which we hope they will treat us.
As we have discovered while listening to our neighbors, dignity is sometimes defined by what we don’t do. We asked, “What do you like most about the way UCOM treats you?” Here are some of the answers.
You don’t make me do things.
Abiding by the Golden Rule, at UCOM we offer options, not ultimatums. Nobody has to agree to a particular creed or embrace a certain faith to engage with us and to receive whatever we have to offer. They don’t even have to be “grateful” or “deserving”. Nobody has to attend our classes or enlist under our control to benefit from this place so generously provided by many community supporters. Instead we offer lots of choices in every area. People choose the food they and their household want to eat as they would at a little corner grocery store. Opportunities for continuing education, financial conversations, food options, books from many different sources, dress and casual and downright funky clothing are here for the asking. We recommend rather than command. If people ask for prayer or spiritual dialogue, we have that too. That’s just the way we want to be treated, and we think of control and manipulation as insults to dignity—ours and others’.
You don’t talk down to me and act like you are better than me.
At UCOM we are intentionally welcoming and affirming, recognizing but not emphasizing people’s needs.
You don’t do things FOR me, but with me.
UCOM provides volunteer opportunities for people who use our services. It is a way for people to earn, rather than to feel like they are begging. When we talk with people who need jobs or housing or other necessities, we help them to develop tools for their journey and we offer them leads. In the final analysis though they have to get the job or sign the lease themselves. We intend to walk with people as far as they want us to, and we make every effort not to make them dependent on us. Independence and inter-dependence are qualities we hope to encourage in all of our neighbors.
You don’t act like I’m an imposition. You always make me feel like I am the most important person you will see today.
Calling people by their name; working to communicate in words each of us understand; providing a variety of food, clothing and services that our neighbors need; being ourselves and giving others permission to be their best self; centering ourselves in the eternal so that we can be present in the moment; looking people in the eye; being physically on their level—all these things are part of valuing each person for who they are. It makes everyone a little more content in life.
You don’t overstep my boundaries.
At UCOM you can usually get a smile or a friendly greeting, maybe even a familial hug, but only if you want that. Every volunteer and staff person signs a confidentiality agreement. What happens at UCOM stays at UCOM. We will not go uninvited into anyone else’s space politically, religiously or personally. Dignity requires each of us to respect the others’ boundaries.
What would you suggest that UCOM and other organizations like us do (or stop doing) to enhance everyone’s dignity?