Thursday, 9 January 2014

Rough and ready

Someone accused me the other day of "undignified" behaviour. Well, frankly, I've never seen myself as especially "dignified" in the first place. I'm just a very ordinary person fumbling my way through life in a rough-and-ready fashion, probably more stupefied than dignified.

In fact I'm rather suspicious of anyone whose aim in life is to be dignified. It suggests someone who's rather stiff and starchy, rather defensive, afraid to be themself in case they do something embarrassing or stupid or laughable.

They would rather do nothing at all than see other people looking down their noses at their unseemly or uncouth conduct. They would rather be "dignified" than interesting or amusing or witty.

But surely to live your life, to be who you are, or simply to enjoy yourself, you have to risk losing your dignity every minute of the day? You have to risk the inevitable pratfalls and cock-ups that go hand in hand with spontaneity and experiment.

I associate "dignity" mainly with those public figures whose reputation seems to rest on being aloof and pompous and never saying anything candid or off-message. The only result is that hardly anyone trusts them because their "dignity" is more important to them than getting on with the job.

I also associate "dignity" with emotional repression - not showing your grief or rage or even wild excitement because it's "undignified". Bottling everything up and pretending everything's fine is more "appropriate" than letting it all spill out and maybe making other people uncomfortable.

So no, I'm probably not a very dignified person. But I'll settle for being a sometimes toe-curling plain speaker.

PS: Isn't dignity just another word for respectability? Or is it something more than that?

28 comments:

Z said...

I'm not sure I agree about the emotional repression - sometimes dignity is the more gracious and admirable response to adversity, and great courage can be shown through repressed emotions. And you can hardly blame a public figure for being careful of their image, when you consider the scorn poured on unflattering photos of them letting their hair down, or when they can never live down an injudicious remark. I've a feeling that only Boris can be undignified with impunity.

I'm not a plain speaker, on the whole. But I don't care if I'm a fool and I love to laugh at myself, even if I am embarrassed.

Wisewebwoman said...

Sometimes dignity is all someone has until they screw up the courage to let someone in. I've known a few.

I wouldn't dump them all in one basket.

And being stiff and stern is often just a shield, a protection on how the world is perceived.

As is said, walk a mile in my moccasins before you judge my life.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

Z: Well, I guess it's up to the individual whether to let their emotions rip or not, but I'm not sure they should squash everything down simply to avoid other people's discomfort.

I agree about the scorn poured on public figures, but I think what's called for is not dignity but just a discreet and trouble-avoiding silence.

Nick said...

Note for my American visitors: Boris is Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, well-known for his madcap undignified outbursts.

Nick said...

www: I know what you mean, but I suppose I'd see it as awkward reserve rather than dignity.

I agree, stiff-and-stern often hides raging emotions underneath. And breaking through the stiffness can require a lot of tact and patience.

Bijoux said...

Care to share the undignified moment?

Jenny Woolf said...

I don't think that dignity has to be "put on" or affected. It can be inherent,surely?


"Stupefied, not dignified" - great phrase - I love it!! L)

Nick said...

Bijoux: Goodness, where would I start? Plenty of occasions at work meetings where I've been asked an unexpected question about something I'm supposed to know about and I have no idea what to say....

Jenny: Oh, I don't think so. You only have to look at the undignified behaviour of most animals - or children. I think dignity is very much a learned thing.

kylie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick said...

Kylie: I could restore that comment and wait to see how others respond. But I'm not that malicious.

Rummuser said...

“Am I a dignified person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a dignified person, or do I only want to seem like one so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I'm bullshitting myself, morally speaking?”
― Paraphrasing David Foster Wallace.

Nick said...

Ramana: Indeed, the dilemma in a nutshell. I'm sure some people want to appear dignified for very good personal reasons. But some do it, as he says, because they think it'll impress others.

kylie said...

restore it then

kylie said...

because frankly nick this is the second time you have plastered our disagreement all over the internet and thrown ugly accusations all over me. might i remind you that YOU asked MY opinion

Nick said...

Okay, Kylie, it's up to you. Your comment was "oh nick, you have been sold way way short! you are also stunted and irritating and a jerk"

I'm not sure how I've "plastered our disagreement all over the internet" or for that matter "thrown ugly accusations" at you.

I'm also not sure how all this refers to the blog post. I'm happy to discuss our disagreements by email but here you are "plastering it all over the internet."

And I apologise to any of my blogmates who're somewhat baffled by these peculiar exchanges....

Grannymar said...

Tiptoes out in a dignified fashion, I'll come back another day.

Nick said...

Grannymar: Very wise, there's a bit of a brawl going on here.

Cheerful Monk said...

I'm afraid I enjoy being silly too much to ever appear dignified. But hey, I'm at the age where I wear purple with a red hat that doesn't go.

Nick said...

Jean: Good for you! Silliness is one of the greatest of life's pleasures! I'm doing my best to grow old disgracefully.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I'm going to have to agree with Z. I think there are times when dignity is absolutely called for. Expressing your feeling isn't always appropriate and sometimes can really hurt other people unnecessarily. But I think it's a bit of a false dichotmoy to divide the word into dignified/emotionally repressed (and I don't even see those as equivalent) and free-spirited expressers.

Nick said...

Agent: Oh, I agree that expressing your feelings isn't always appropriate. But I would see the alternative as quiet restraint rather than dignity, which to me implies something slightly artificial.

Nick said...

Isn't dignity just another word for respectability? Or is it something more than that?

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

I think there are some careers where dignity is expected, and could be seen as necessary; careers where you are either setting an example or need to behave in a professional way at all times. For example, a doctor (especially one working with life-threatening diseases) would risk alienating his patients if he gave the impression of being incompetent or had a completely different sense of humour than his patients. And a teacher who fools about in the classroom risks giving his or her pupils the licence to do likewise, which might backfire on them or on other members of staff. You'd have to be a very special person to be able to lose your dignity safely in either situation, I think.

But on the whole, I say damn right! People need to loosen up and be who are they are, not who other people expect them to be!

Nick said...

Jay: Interesting examples. But I think a doctor or teacher can seem competent and focused without having to be "dignified", if that means something a bit stiff and unapproachable.

And no, I'm not saying it's okay for a teacher to fool around (unless of course that's a way of getting the message across), but I think the alternative is simply taking the job seriously.

I also think your reference to "being professional" is more meaningful than "being dignified".

Liz Hinds said...

Good heavens! Who on earth would want to be dignified?

Nick said...

Liz: Exactly. Being undignified is much more fun!

Secret Agent Woman said...

Later this example occurred to me - when I was giving birth, I was in a fair amount of pain (she says, putting it mildly). I had a sizable baby - 8 1/2 pounds - and I was small, and I didn't have any pain killers. But I was quiet except for talking and breathing, because I'd seen women in movies who screamed and cursed during childbirth and there was no way in hell I was going to be that undignified. So yeah, that probably tells you something about my own personal standards of when it is and isn't appropriate to give free rein to your feelings!

Nick said...

Agent: Again, I think you could call that dignity or you could just call it not wanting to make a spectacle of yourself. But wow, I do admire your self-control in not having painkillers AND not screaming the roof down!