Passages to Equal Dignity (PED)
Nora Femenia: Co-Director and Co-Coordinator
Michael Britton: Co-Director and Co-Coordinator
Bill Leland: Co-Director and Co-Coordinator
HumanDHS is primarily grounded in academic work. We are independent of any religious or political agenda. However, we wish to bring academic work into "real life." Our research focuses on topics such as dignity (with humiliation as its violation), or, more precisely, on respect for equal dignity for all human beings in the world. This is not only our research topic, but also our core value, in line with Article 1 of the Human Rights Declaration that states that every human being is born with equal dignity (that ought not be humiliated). We agree with Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, who advocates the building of bridges from academia as follows, "I have always believed that good scholarship can be relevant and consequential for public policy. It is possible to affect public policy without being an advocate; to be passionate about peace without losing analytical rigor; to be moved by what is just while conceding that no one has a monopoly on justice." We would like to add that we believe that good scholarship can be relevant and consequential not only for public policy, but for raising awareness in general.
• Michael Britton kindly wrote (18/06/2007):
Dear Nora and Evelin,
I see now as I read your generous response, Dear Nora, how presumptuous of me to think of discussing such things via an electronic medium, except as they can be sanitized into abstraction and so placed at adequate distance, for writer and reader alike, though for different reasons. How unbelievably private the most terrible moments when atrocity is somehow survived: Humiliation, the subject of our Network, the subject of Evelin's wonderful book (I was just rereading it today), reaches most devastatingly into the interstices of the self precisely because that is exactly what is intended. I had thought how wonderful to learn more of the thinking by which people recover strength, recover resilience, recover a sense of identity. How much denial is there in that! Thinking indeed! Everything I know about trauma and recovery locate it first and foremost outside the pale of language and in the realm of emotional/body memory, in that place where practicality falters, thinking's ability to weave a dialogue in which boundaries are accepted finds no responsive ear, and shame/terror are deepest. A thousand apologies for my imagining some bright path by which we glide from such places, born aloft by rescuing thoughts, the kind anyone can share with anyone, the kind that would be no problem to post on a website.
I recall Bessel Van Der Kolk telling the story of Pavlov and his famous dogs. Shortly after Pavlov had lost his son, a flood hit the town and the waters rose in the lab where the dogs were in cages. None drowned, but all had been so frightened and unable to escape that they lost what Pavlov called "the reflex of purpose", the capacity to organize purposeful sequences of action to achieve their objectives. And I recall Francine Shapiro walking in a park, processing her own trauma, whatever it may have been, and realizing both that her eyes were rapidly going side to side and that she was processing the experience faster and more effectively than she ever had -- and turning that into EMDR, the now-famous therapy technique. How much resilience is a private matter, between self and self, self and a few others, a matter of doing something, imagining something, engaging in some rite of passage or transformation that is perhaps supported by thought but often not so publically presentable as "thoughts" might be.
What gets us through the places with the least light are methods least sharable in the public light. Moving eyes rapidly from side to side, the little tricks of getting across impossible divides. I take from your writing the recognition that dignity most often comes privately, that recovery from the humiliation of the terrorized, if I may put it so, comes often as very private steps taken in which privacy itself is a restorative balm through which personal dignity heals. I myself feel the immense secrecy that surrounds impossible moments, secrecy from others, secrecy often from self. Under what special conditions of respectedness from the right others, and of respectedness within, the impossibly secret returns to reclaim presence and so begin the restoration of the personal dignity that lies at the heart of this quest Evelin has charted for our Network and for the world. To have control now over who listens and who does not, who sees and who does not, goes to the heart of restoring the conditions for relationship that get violated in purposefully inflicted trauma: The decisions that were totally controlled by another must now be totally in our own hands. Is that not so? I think it is. That's what Judith Hermann says a thousand times in her book, Trauma and Recovery.
How wonderful to again feel blessed, somehow fresh, somehow able to have an identity different from the terrible experiences now past. "I am who I am with the world today, not what I experienced with the world back then." How wonderful to be alive anew in a new and different world. How private the journeys by which we get there. How difficult to tell others of the path without violating the path itself. Maybe recovery is above all else a one person at a time kind of thing, the network of recovering and recovered persons bringing others along, and not so much a spreading-through-abstraction kind of thing. Or maybe abstraction does serve the purpose of signaling there is hope for those who keep on looking. Through it all, however, I think the sanctity of the innermost self is sacred, a sanctuary to which others can only be invited in. And Privacy is the guardian of the sanctuary.
I take all this from what you wrote and what I've known of life. Perhaps, cleaned up of all personal references, this little "essay" of mine may find a home somewhere on the website, but nothing else unless so designated. Is that right do you think?
With great regard,
• Nora Femenia kindly wrote (20/06/2007):
My dear all,
taking time to reflect on your writing, Michael, allowed me to connect at a different level with the group and with the issues...many thanks for your deep reflections, Michael. You said:
"I had thought how wonderful to learn more of the thinking by which people recover strength, recover resilience, recover a sense of identity. How much denial is there in that! Thinking indeed! Everything I know about trauma and recovery locate it first and foremost outside the pale of language and in the realm of emotional/body memory, in that place where practicality falters, thinking's ability to weave a dialogue in which boundaries are accepted finds no responsive ear, and shame/terror are deepest."
Perhaps what we are discovering is that, after building up a trusting web of reciprocal support, we could be brave enough as to explore not only the thinking about humiliation and how it affects us as a whole person (body, brain, soul, etc) but the expression of past humiliation in whatever form it has been imprinted and in whatever form it re-surfaces. How we can give any language expression to emotional/body memory? quite a challenge, but I have the intuition that it would only be possible to explore in such a network as ours....building reciprocal trusting relationships, as is Evelin wonderful proposal to us, to have a container where in those processes can fin a safe expression.
It's mind boggling how we can imagine a continuum from the unexpressed realms of body memory to the disembodied expression of internet safe sharing in the same breath! It feels like exploring the moon, but we are there, and feeding each other with wonderful reciprocal perceptions that strengthens us to go forward....
Perhaps some of us could be at charge of the department of "designing rites of passage or transformation" to provide bridges of meaning between one realm and the other....
a big hug to all, thanks for your love
• Bill Leland kindly wrote (09/06/2007):
It is the action focus in the context of human dignity and mutuality which seems to be coming through clearly and powerfully to me. So, what seems to be appearing to me, probably still somewhat fuzzy, is action groups of 4 or 5 people who:
- communicate with each other via the Web,
- commit to manifest in their communications the values of human dignity and mutual empowerment (the Network could coalesce from work already done a set of guidelines),
- commit to act in their everyday lives in whatever context is most appropriate at any given time (work situations, partner relationships, parent-child relationships, etc.) to increase human dignity, decrease humiliation, increase mutual empowerment (the Network could provided stories/exemplary case studies to give ideas about what, for example, in real terms increasing human dignity looks like),
- commit to share their experiences with each other,
- commit to provide support for each other -"listening" (reading in this case) and giving constructive and honest feedback.
These action groups could meet for a set period of time, for example three months. During that time each action group would document one or more stories or case studies which would describe the constructive actions and challenging factors that are involved in walking into and creating the alternative universe.
Each action group could determine which of their stories would be contributed to the Network's central repository of these stories. The repository could be organized according to the type of mutual relationship in point. Overtime, we could expect to see wonderful real life stories which describe how human dignity and mutual empowerment transformed a wide range of relationships - from families to international conflicts and oppressions.
After a group had been together for, say, three months, each of the 4 or 5 people in that group would then form a new group of 4 or 5 people, and so on.
It would probably be beneficial to have some way of presenting to the entire alternative universe movement the sum of all that is happening. This information could be shared in a variety of ways to the broadest and most diverse public.
Bill adds later: Let me give a bit more of a context. It seems to me that the electronic action groups could serve three main purposes: (1) encourage and support all of us to act; (2) generate exemplary stories and case studies; and, (3) be a way of channeling new people who send emails inquiring about the HDHS Network. It is this third purpose that I did not make clear when I first expressed the notion of action groups. As I understand it, responding as we would like to the numerous emails seems to be a substantial challenge. If we had the action group system going, we could give an initial welcoming reply to a new email and also suggest that one of the best ways to get involved, to establish relationships, would be to join an action group. We would strive to get to the point where each action group would have at least one person with experience with the Network. We could also develop other written information about how the action groups work to be shared with people new to the Network.