Life, Dignity and the Pursuit of Happiness
Two-hundred and forty years ago, Jefferson proclaimed that there existed certain unalienable rights to which we are all entitled: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I propose we update this famous phrase to life, dignity and the pursuit of happiness.
...because, if we are all created equal, we owe one another a common respect.
...because we are humans first, before we are labeled, categorized, pigeonholed and stereotyped.
...because two-dozen decades ago, liberty and equality were defined very differently from how we understand them today.
...because “liberty” is not “I can do whatever I want simply because I have the means.”
...because freedom without dignity allows different people to be assigned different worth.
...because it is immoral to hold down others in order to maintain the status quo.
...because there is an inherent tension between benevolent governance and free market economics, with moral and ethical implications.
...because there is a growing chasm between those who climb to the top and those who get left under foot.
...because power and privilege can lift up the poor and powerless among us.
...because a global society requires more cooperation and less competition.
...because a world where everyone is honored and empowered creates a different kind of wealth for us all.
...because, without dignity, there is no happiness.
Imagine a world where decisions are made factoring in human dignity before looking at the bottom line. Better yet…imagine a world where life, dignity and the pursuit of happiness are the bottom line. How different does it look when human worth is valued above financial worth, privilege and power?
This shift transcends all politics and belief systems. It doesn’t take an act of congress or a supreme court ruling or an election. All it requires is each of us willingly embracing Jefferson’s words in a way that reflects our conviction that everyone alive today deserves:
- an equity of access to opportunities,
- the equality of human rights, and
- dignity in their everyday lives.
Institutions and individuals acting with integrity...it changes everything...and we have the power to make it happen.
Especially in education, the greatest value we can instill in all our children is the expectation that everyone lives a quality existence with dignity, realizing their full potential today. Not someday. Now. Life. Dignity. Happiness. Integrity. Who’s with me?