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Kelly Williams Brown is a columnist, blogger and, someday, an author of “Adulting: How to Become A Grown-Up in 387 Easy(ish) Steps,” which will be published in spring 2013. She is probably a 5.2, on a dignity scale of 1 to 10.
Dignity, like obscenity or a unitard, is hard to define but you know it when you see it. Or, more often, when you don’t see it, since we don’t live in the most dignified of times.
I am not, by nature, a dignified person. For example, I’m not saying I have eaten chips and salsa while taking a bubble bath, but I’m not saying I haven’t, either.
But even though it’s not something I’m naturally good at, I’ve found some principles that at least allow me to present a semi-dignified exterior to the world. Yes, this façade may only be a few millimeters thick, but the first step to actually being dignified is acting dignified.
5 steps to up your Personal Dignity Quotient (PDQ)
1. Don’t clamor for credit when you do good things
Yes, it’s a self-aggrandizing world we live in, but really the reason you should be doing good is that it’s the right thing to do, not to get recognized for it. Dignity is an internal thing, so the more you can develop, within yourself, all the satisfaction you require, the better.
In college, I dated a guy who just did wonderful things for humanity. He would get up at 6 a.m., every weekday, to go do adult literacy tutoring in the projects. He also worked a lot with the homeless, and something important he told me was that you shouldn’t be looking for positive feedback from the people you were helping, because you are there for them, not the other way around.
The more time you spend looking over your shoulder to make sure everyone sees you being good, the less time you actually have to be good.
2. Play the “wouldn’t you be sorry?” game with yourself
I think lots of people know, naturally, that eating yellow curry in a white sundress is a bad idea. But it took me years of natural consequences to realize this important truth. And the only way I avoid such things now is that I’ve trained myself to think of these potentially undignified consequences. Here’s the sort of dialogue that runs through my brain several times a day:
“Kelly Brown, wouldn’t you be sorry if you got in the car wearing a skimpy skirt and a stained tanktop and then you got a flat tire and had to walk along the interstate in this ensemble?”
“Kelly Brown, wouldn’t you be sorry if this hilarious sexual anecdote that you are about to write an email about was forwarded around?”
“Kelly Brown, wouldn’t you be sorry if you had a bunch of cocktails at this work function and then let that attractive co-worker know how compelling you find him?”
3. Watch ya mouth
There is a Tupac song with one of his characteristically frank hooks: “Motherf*cker, watch ya mouth.” This is advice that lots and lots of us can take to heart. Do I need to say this? Can I pause a beat to decide if this joke may offend someone? Does this cruel remark I’m about to make need to exist in the world? Who will benefit from my sharing all these colorful details of recent medical troubles?
4. Act like you’ve been there before
This advice came from my family friend Bonnie. If you’re in a situation where you are either excited or uncomfortable, the best thing to do is to act as though you’ve been there before. No, you’re not nervous, you’re not flustered, you’re even not dazzled by that celebrity because whatever is happening is par for the course in your extremely awesome life. You’ve been there before … or at least, you’re pretending you have.
I find that if I am working to project calm steadiness outward, usually my brain feels calm and steady as well.
5. Respond gracefully to a-holes
This world of ours is chock full of magic, wonder, kittens and assholes. Unfortunately, I seem to encounter assholes a lot more frequently than the first three.
But the problem with being an jerk in return is that you are thereby increasing the World Asshole Population (1.9 billion, 2012 est.) You can instead be gracious and walk away with the upper hand.
Don’t yell back at them. Don’t swear. Don’t call names. Calmly stand your ground, secure in the knowledge that eventually you will emerge triumphant. Why? Because you are one dignified-ass person, and dignity always wins out in the end.
Do you have any sense of dignity? Anything you'd add to this list?