By Annemarie Paulin-Campbell

In the last ten days, we have once again experienced mayhem in Parliament. Riot police were called into parliament. We also experienced a sudden and very disruptive strike by taxi drivers. On Monday they blockaded the M1and M2, and terrorized motorists by pulling passengers out of passing vehicles. Some matric pupils writing final exams, who depend on taxis for transport, were impacted by the strike. While the Gauteng education department thankfully allowed those who arrived late – due to the strike – to write their exams, the extra anxiety generated for students may have impacted their ability to write their best exam. This, potentially, may have impacted on their future options.

It seems that we as a society do not respect the dignity of people. Violence, intimidation, insults and contempt are a common way of proceeding. Dialogue, constructive debate, and fighting for rights with an awareness of and sensitivity to how our actions might negatively affect others, are skills and attitudes which are sorely lacking. St. Ignatius of Loyola advised that we always put the best possible interpretation on what others say as a starting place for moving towards understanding. We tend to do the opposite. We come from a position where we put the most negative possible construction on what is said or done by another.

Catholic Social Teaching reminds us that central to the understanding of human dignity is the recognition that every human being (irrespective of race, culture, sexual orientation or political persuasion), is created in the image of God and worthy of respect as a member of the human family. We are social people and “each institution must be judged by how much it enhances or is a detriment to the life and dignity of human beings.”

People take their cue about how to engage from their leaders. There is a lack of leadership which is able to be both courageous and challenging where necessary, while remaining respectful of the human dignity of others.

It is two weeks short of a year since Mandela’s death. I am struck by how, across the political divide, so many spoke about his dignified leadership – a leadership which was marked by respect, dialogue and forgiveness. Many people remind us that we should commit ourselves to continue living his legacy.

Almost a year later it seems we have not got far in our expressed desire to emulate the kind of leadership he modelled for us. We may not be in Parliament but our own greater attentiveness to treating those we encounter with dignity and respect, and our teaching of those attitudes to our children, might just spill over helping to co-create a culture of dialogue rather than destruction. How can we go about ensuring that we honour the dignity of others?

Follow the Annemarie Paulin-Campbell on twitter @annemariepc_c

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