Spread the Tread: Dignity

At The Atinga Project, we believe walking a mile in their shoes is the most powerful way to fight prejudice. But what exactly does walking a mile in someone’s shoes require? This is the first in a series of blog posts that explore our core vales of dignity, honor, and humility and how they intersect in our work both at home and abroad.

The Atinga Team sees dignity, honor, and humility as essential characteristics for anyone who chooses to walk a mile in the shoes of anyone different than or foreign to them. Much can be said about these values, and as we tread, we want to dig deeper. A dictionary definition of dignity… “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed” (Merriam-Webster). How we understand dignity has a direct impact on how we interact with others. We often find ourselves moving so quickly through life that we don’t take the time to think about how our actions may impact someone else. “In every encounter, we give life or we diminish it. There is no neutral exchange. We enhance human dignity or we drain it” (Brennan Manning, author and speaker). In other words, our interactions are likely to leave someone feeling better or worse about who they are in some way.

This is a big deal! In our own lives, we have an obligation to treat others with dignity. Our actions should communicate that people are valuable and worthy of respect. On a daily basis, in our own homes and cities, dignity might drive us to ask someone how their day was, and truly listen, rather than dividing our attention. It could mean that we ask our waiter at a restaurant how they are and actually mean it. This can look like a lot of things in a wide variety of places. In its most basic form though, dignity follows when we treat people with respect. It compels us to treat people like they matter.

When we emphasize dignity, the way we live our lives on a daily basis could be radically transformed. The truth is, dignity must extend beyond our locality — even to people that we may never meet. It needs to be a global phenomenon. Every person, regardless of where they come from, should be shown respect and treated with value.

At The Atinga Project, we recognize that, in many cases, it’s difficult to find accurate depictions of individuals who live around the world without excessive associations and ingrained stereotypes. Far too often, our media portrays places like Africa as far away lands that are full of war, disease, and poverty. These representations affect our attitudes, opinions, and actions. They prevent us from treating others with the dignity that they deserve. People the world throughout are different than each other, but there is a common thread of humanity shared by all.

What, again, does all of this have to do with the AP? As you probably know, every pair of atingas are handmade in Rwanda. All you have to do is pick up a pair to see the artistry, resourcefulness, and skill that was required to make each shoe. We ourselves in the West don’t take an ounce of credit for that. Rather, we’re trying to change the story that so often permeates our culture. The culture that says the “other” is not only different, but also deficient. That it’s not good enough. Western culture has a way of comparing all others to itself, labeling whatever doesn’t fit into its worldview, often doing whatever it takes to make other things, even other people, fit. Whatever doesn’t measure up to our standard… well, isn’t worth our time.

Each time we look at the shoes in our booth at the West Side Bazaar, we are reminded that the artisan-shoemakers (our partners and stakeholders) are creative and talented individuals. They have rich histories and vibrant, beautiful families. They have challenges just like we have challenges. Dignity compels us to bring these things to the forefront. It asks us to take stock of these things. It challenges us to reevaluate our perceptions. It prompts us to recognize that while people might live differently, they also have a lot to teach us. Dignity demands that we look people in the eyes and see them not as “other” but instead as individuals with inherent worth.

Treating people with dignity—respecting them, knowing them, appreciating them—is not easy. It often takes us far outside of our comfort zones… But is that really such a bad thing?

The Atinga Team would like to challenge you to continue to tread with us on this journey. We’re intentional about promoting the dignity of others in our lives. Are you? Take time for people. Ask hard questions. Start conversations. Seek to understand. I once heard a quote that said, “You don’t give people dignity, you affirm it” (Perkins). So whatever it might look like… walk a mile in their shoes by looking to affirm the dignity of others—both at home and around the world, wherever you tread.

~Emily, on behalf of the Atinga Collective

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