Why Dignity Matters in a World of Amazon and Other Things
The recent New York Times (NYT) story about Amazon—people allegedly crying at their desks, working ridiculously long hours on very little sleep, being encouraged to tear apart each other’s ideas—has people talking.
In response, people are saying stuff we’ve heard before, including ideas about work-life balance, responsible journalism, and innovation. But the NYT report on Amazon also seems to have people talking about something more, and that something, it seems, is dignity.
According to Monique Valcour in Harvard Business Review,
“ … dignity is fundamental to well-being and to human and organizational thriving. And since many of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, work is a major source of dignity in our lives.”
If dignity is fundamental, it makes sense that readers and commentators care whether Amazon and other organizations treat workers with dignity.
No one wants to be treated unfairly. No one wants to be overlooked. No one wants to have their work ripped to shreds or have their value discounted. One of the places we find dignity is through the work we do. It’s the way we were designed.
But dignity isn’t limited to what happens at work.
We Are Uniquely Equipped
No matter where we find ourselves each day, followers of Christ should work to restore dignity where it is lacking for others—in the workplace, in our schools, in our communities and churches, in our judicial systems and penal institutions. Dignity is a non-negotiable if we want to build healthy relationships with one another:
You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. (James 3:18, MSG)
It’s easy to believe this gift of treating one another with honor is limited to those who think like us, look like us, or vote like us. Recent scientific studies suggest, “In-group bias is a central aspect of human behavior. Across a variety of scenarios, people tend to be more helpful to members of their own group rather than to those of other groups.” But surely God expects more from us than mere tribalism. In a 2012 On Being interview with Krista Tippett, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks makes this important observation:
“[G]o back and read the Bible and something hits you, which is we're very familiar with the two great commands of love: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might; love your neighbor as yourself. But the one command reiterated more than any other in the mosaic box—36 times said the rabbis—is love the stranger for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Or to put it in a contemporary way, love the stranger because, to him, you're a stranger. And this sense that we are enlarged by the people who are different from us—we are not threatened by them—that needs cultivating, can be cultivated, and would lead us to see the 21st century as full of blessing, not full of fear.”
We Are Without Excuse
People who are different from us enrich us. Whether we make less (or more) money, belong to a different ethnic group or faith tradition, vote differently, or worship at a mega-church or in a downtown storefront, there is never any excuse to treat another human with anything other than dignity. In the words of Monique Valcour, “once dignity is assaulted, a downward spiral is often set in motion.”
God calls us to abandon that downward spiral in exchange for the higher ground of the Kingdom. Today, communities, families, individuals, and companies like Amazon are navigating a culture that portions out dignity in shallow bowls and reserves honor for celebrities—even in the Church. We are called to something more. Jesus laid the foundation for us when he shared with us the greatest commandment, the same one Rabbi Sacks mentioned in that On Being interview: love God and love people.
All people. Everywhere. No matter what.