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Dignity and Leadership

Written By: Krista Keil

“The most important issue in the order of truth today is what constitutes the proper worth and dignity of man.” -Charles Malik

Dr. Charles Malik was a man known for his strident defense of human dignity, moral leadership, and diplomacy on an international scale. Although he passed away in 1987, his legacy lives on. Dr. Malik was a Lebanese diplomat, academic, philosopher and theologian. Malik was the first Lebanese representative in the United Nations and was one of the lead contributors to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, still used by the United Nations today. Malik believed that in order for Human Rights to be upheld on a global level, that the “dignity of man” was a concept that needed to be recognized and agreed upon by all. Malik held firm to the belief that human beings are created by God with inherent, unchanging, dignity; Malik sought to restore and protect this vital principle amidst systems and governments that jeopardized this fundamental right. Malik was a man of courage and conviction, yet humble, considerate, and magnanimous. Malik’s life is a true testament of virtuous leadership.

As defined by the Virtuous Leadership Institute, leadership is about achieving greatness by bringing out the greatness in others. This definition insinuates that leadership is not only person-centered, but ‘other’ centered. Dr. Malik seemed to have this down pat because if you value the dignity of the person in front of you, how can you be anything but other centered?

There’s little question that moral leadership and recognition of human dignity go hand in hand. It seems to me that the most admired and beloved leaders, regardless of their field of expertise, all have one thing in common: they respect the dignity of those around them. Leaders that come to mind include the likes of Nelson Mandela, Franklin Roosevelt, and Susan B. Anthony, to name a few. Prestige and power didn’t matter to these individuals; whether you were the milkman or Elvis Presley, was irrelevant. They supported the belief that every human person holds within them the same potential, the same value, and they staunchly defended and advocated for all people to be treated with respect and decency, and for human dignity to be upheld in the public arena. These individuals exemplify that leadership is not about rising to the top, it’s about vigorously upholding human dignity: seeing people for who they are. Moral leaders recognize others as equals, treat them with respect, and ask that others do the same.

This approach to leadership shows us that one; we all have the capacity to lead; two, that effective leadership is based on principles; and three, that leaders help others become who they are created to be by drawing out human potential, even if it surpasses our own (which ultimately is the hope). We should want those who come after us to be better than ourselves, but this is only possible if we set the stage for them.

Leadership is in essence, selfless servitude. Malik, Mandela, Roosevelt, Anthony, they all saw beyond their time; they weren’t tireless advocates for dignity for self-seeking reasons. They broke the mold, set precedents and advocated for the dignity of the human person to be protected for years to come; they laid the groundwork for us, those who walk in their wake. To me, that is the epitome of selfless service: to do the work for the benefit of others, because they knew it was the right thing to do. Simply put, they followed their moral compass and stuck to principles. The impact these individuals had has lasted much beyond their time, and it is we who get to reap the benefits. May we never forget the legacies of those who came before us, and how the fierce defense of human dignity has shaped our current landscape. May we strive to become leaders who provide opportunity, lay the foundation, and see potential.

At YLF this summer, students are strengthening their leadership skills by learning about the meaning and purpose of human dignity. Students are exploring the design of the human person, and how dignity is central to our beings and daily life. Core concepts being examined include the human person’s capacities for reason, free will, and the role of conscience, and how these capacities are essential to understanding our inherent dignity as human beings. At YLF we believe that it is through learning that we become...may we never stop learning.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

- Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights


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