Not many of us think about our dignity on a daily basis. In fact, I’m not sure I’d truly considered what mine meant before being invited to develop two creative writing sessions on the topic for a project run by Making Minds and Interlink.
Before planning these workshops, which were aimed at people dealing with mental health issues or working in a mental health context, I never seriously considered how my dignity developed. I never thought about how those around me – teachers, friends, partners, poets and more – impacted me, empowered me, taught me through positive (or negative) examples to make good and honorable decisions.
However, through reading, selecting poems and talking to others, I realized just how much having my dignity as an adult has impacted my life – I certainly had it taken from me at points during my childhood and teenage years, but that’s a story for another time.
Dignity itself is complex and significant. An emotional skeleton which can be broken or bruised but still holds us up.
When it comes down to is, dignity is the result of being treated with respect and is linked to so many good and important things: feeling listened to and valued, being empowered by others, developing a sense of well-being, and building self-esteem through making independent, moral choices. These are just the type of things that make us who we are.
During my two creative writing workshops, I also learned what dignity meant to those dealing with mental health diagnoses or working in a mental health field. Together we read, wrote and talked about the power of listening, safe places, courage, kindness, respect and contentment. We also discussed what it meant to lose one’s dignity, how it happens and the emotional toll it can take. The conversations and writing shared during the sessions were both enlightening and humbling.
A week later participants from these workshops, as well as other community members, gathered to explore these same themes in two visual art workshops led by the lovely Rhiannon Gray. Both the writing and artwork will soon be displayed at this year’s RCT World Mental Health Day event at Michael Sobells Centre on Friday 2nd October.
Although you can see all the work displayed at the event, I’ve included the community poem that was written at the end of my second session to give you a taste of what this group produced. For this piece, each participant wrote two lines about dignity on slips of paper before working together to make it into a coherent poem. I’ve also few photographs from my session as well as Rhiannon’s art workshops as well.
Please enjoy and help us carry our message forward: everyone deserves dignity.
I feel at home in the wild –
on a beach with rocky cliffs
or in the middle of tall trees
where I can be protected,
The sun always shines brightly,
maybe not on you or me,
the sun is shining.
Still, when I am floored
by the hit and run drivers
along my route, dignity tyred,
run down by life’s traffic,
I pick myself up, standing rooted
in surety and dignity, floored
I’ll remember to be kind and protect others –
dignity connects us.
I’ll listen to everyone in a non-judgemental way.
Dignity and respect helps each person’s
inner self shine.
Dignity is not about the clothes we wear
or our attitude. Remember that.
Do as you would be done by.
Please conserve dignity.