It didn’t take long for one person to speak up and say, “This is the work we need to do.”

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We need to understand ourselves in both evolutionary and psychological terms in order to plan a more rational, catastrophe-proof future. —E. O. Wilson

In my first book, Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict (Yale University Press, 2011), I showcased the Dignity Model to clarify what dignity is, what it looks like, and how to apply the concept to our lives and relationships. The building blocks of the model are the ten essential elements of dignity, which are ten ways to honor dignity, and the ten temptations to violate dignity, or ways in which our evolutionary legacy set us up to violate our own dignity. The model also highlights ways to resolve conflict using a dignity approach.


Since the publication of Dignity, I have consulted with a variety of organizations interested in addressing relationship problems in the workplace. Their questions and concerns have led me to understand that there is a great need for this vital information in the business community and beyond. Leading with Dignity is my answer to this need, and it is designed for leaders in any work environment: in healthcare, education, faith communities, governments, and other organizations.
My goal is to take the dignity work several steps further by showing dignity in action. This sequel, then, is meant to be a user’s guide for leaders who want to expand not just their understanding of dignity, but also their knowledge of how to embody, model, and make it work for the well-being of their people and organizations.


The rewards of putting dignity into practice in the workplace aren’t limited to what happens within the organization. There are ripple effects; we can experience them in every encounter, every day, in big and small ways. Knowledge of dignity transforms into a way of being, because the more we engage dignity’s potential, the more we become empowered by it. (Loc.85)


Some time ago, I was invited to speak at an executive team meeting of an organization that was considering hiring me to conduct dignity leadership training, with the broad goal of creating a culture of dignity throughout the company. I started by introducing the ten elements of dignity, after which many of the people looked at each other and said, “We’re really good at all of this. Honoring dignity is even in our mission statement.” I congratulated them and proceeded to introduce the ten temptations to violate dignity—ways in which we are set up to violate our own dignity. It didn’t take long for one person to speak up and say, “This is the work we need to do.” No one said a word. Everyone kept looking at the ten temptations handout I had given them. After several minutes, the person who had invited me looked at me and smiled. She thanked me for coming and told me she would be in touch. Later that day, she called and said that the executive team had given her a green light to do the dignity leadership training.

Dignity Statue in Chamberlain rest area, South Dakota.


On the basis of these insights from evolutionary biology, I have developed the “ten temptations to violate dignity,” that is, ten ways in which our evolutionary legacy sets us up to violate our own dignity and the dignity of others (along with strategies for outsmarting those impulses):


Taking the Bait. Don’t let the bad behavior of others determine your own behavior. Restraint is the better part of dignity. Don’t justify returning the harm when someone has harmed you. Do not do unto others as they do unto you.

Saving Face. Don’t lie, cover up, or deceive yourself—tell the truth about what you have done.
Shirking Responsibility. When you have violated the dignity of others, admit that you have made a mistake and apologize for hurting them.


Depending on False Dignity. Beware of the desire for external recognition of your dignity in the form of approval and praise. If we depend only on others for validation of our worth, we are seeking false dignity. Our dignity also comes from within.

Maintaining False Security. Don’t let your need for connection compromise your dignity. If we remain in a relationship in which our dignity is routinely violated, our need for connection has outweighed our need to maintain our own dignity.


Avoiding Confrontation. Don’t allow someone to violate your dignity without saying something. Stand up for yourself. Don’t avoid confrontation. A violation is a signal that there is something in the relationship that needs to change.


Assuming Innocent Victimhood. Don’t assume you are an innocent victim in a troubled relationship. Open yourself to the idea that you might be contributing to the problem. You may not be aware of it. We need to be able to look at ourselves from an outside perspective so that we can see ourselves as others see us.


Resisting Feedback. Don’t resist feedback from others. We often don’t know what we don’t know. We all have blind spots (undignified ways in which we unconsciously behave). We need to overcome our self-protective instincts that lead us to resist constructive criticism and instead consider feedback as a growth opportunity.


Blaming and Shaming Others. Don’t blame and shame others in order to deflect your guilt. Control the urge to defend yourself by trying to make others look bad.


Gossiping and Promoting False Intimacy. Beware of the tendency to connect with others by gossiping about someone else. Being critical and judgmental about others when they are not present can feel like a bonding experience and makes for engaging conversation, but it is harmful and undignified. If you want to create intimacy with others, speak the truth about yourself—about what is really happening in your inner world—and invite the other person to do the same. (Pg.32)

The desire not to look bad in the eyes of others, especially those with power and status, has survival value.5 Threats to one’s good standing often trigger these self-preservation instincts. My favorite example of a well-known person who fell into the temptations trap is Lance Armstrong. Although many prominent leaders in business and politics have been equally lured, Armstrong’s case is particularly illustrative because he fell for nearly all of the ten temptations by covering up the truth about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. He was so afraid of looking bad in the eyes of the world that he focused on self-preservation instead of on telling the truth. As Jonathan Haidt points out, people are more motivated to protect their reputations than to ensure that the truth becomes known. He says that we are more interested in looking good than being good.6

After Armstrong won seven consecutive Tour de France bicycle races, allegations of doping surfaced, instigating an investigation into his drug use. For several years, he claimed innocence; he even fought back by filing a federal lawsuit to halt the doping case against him. The lawsuit was dismissed, and Armstrong began the humiliating process of coming to terms with his public exposure. In the end, he was stripped of all his Tour de France titles and his Olympic bronze medal. None of his corporate sponsors renewed their contracts with him. Not only did he lose his status and power; he also damaged his dignity. Let’s look at the temptations that he could not resist:

Taking the Bait: Armstrong fought back and returned the harm to others in an effort to deflect his guilt. He filed a lawsuit in an attempt to have the charges removed.

Saving Face: Instead of coming clean, admitting that he had used performance-enhancing drugs, Armstrong tried to cover up the truth and engaged in all kinds of deception, including self-deception. After investigating his case, I became convinced that he deceived himself so fully that he came to believe he hadn’t used the drugs.

Shirking Responsibility: He lied to others and the world and failed to take responsibility for his actions.

Depending on False Dignity: His desire for external recognition overcame his desire to protect his inherent dignity.

Claiming Innocent Victimhood: He tried to make the world believe that he was being unfairly treated—that he did not violate any rules of the game—and that he was innocent of any charges.

Resisting Feedback: Even when the allegations of his drug use came out, he still denied it, failing to take the feedback as evidence of his wrongdoing.

Blaming and Shaming: Instead of owning up to his bad behavior, Armstrong filed a lawsuit to stop the case against him, claiming others had lied about his drug use.

The fall from grace for someone who is held in such esteem by the world as Armstrong was (both for beating cancer and for winning so many Tour de France races) was particularly reprehensible. The world felt betrayed, to say the least, and the disgust that was felt by so many must have affected him deeply. The shame that he was trying to avoid in the beginning eventually caught up with him. What made him think he could get away with it?

I have often thought that if Armstrong had admitted to using drugs when the allegations first surfaced, the public might have been a little gentler on him. After all, he had survived cancer and people were feeling a lot of empathy for him. But as dignity experts Linda Hartling and Evelin Lindner have suggested, the fear of humiliation runs very deep in us.7 It appeared that the need to ward off negative public exposure was stronger than Armstrong’s desire to protect his own dignity.

Understanding these preprogrammed vicissitudes of our inner worlds might not make decision-making all that much easier when we are lured by the temptations, but we would be aware of the cost of succumbing to them. We would also go a little easier on ourselves when we feel the pull of them, knowing that this is a struggle that we are all up against. The truth is, inner conflict is one of the hallmarks of being human. As Wilson explains, internal conflict is not a personal irregularity but a timeless human quality.8 The forces that pull us in the direction of self-preservation are always up against our need to be connected with others and to be a part of a group. As we saw earlier, we are social beings who have found safety in numbers, and when we look bad in the eyes of others, we run the risk of being disconnected from them. The shame that is felt when we are exposed for a wrongdoing is so strong that we will avoid it at all costs.

The inner tension that is triggered when we are caught in these powerful competing forces creates turmoil for us. Wilson writes, “Relentless ambivalence and ambiguity are the fruits of the strange primal inheritance that rules the human mind.”9

If we are aware of this fundamental aspect of our shared humanity, not only might we go a little easier on ourselves, but we could also extend that compassion to others. Instead of crucifying them when they are lured by the temptations, we could hold off on passing judgment and say to ourselves: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Another aspect of the Dignity Model that clarifies what happens to us when we are caught in these instincts to preserve our image, no matter the cost, is the distinction between what I call the “I” and the “Me”—two parts of the self that the philosopher William James first articulated in the nineteenth century.10 I have adapted his ideas to help explain the tension we often feel when we are lured by the ten temptations.

The “I” is the continuous part of who we are, the part that can overlook the “Me” that is in constant engagement with the world. Think about the “I” as having the ability to take a bird’s-eye view of yourself in interaction with the world. The “Me,” by contrast, is constantly acting and reacting to what is happening between you and others and reacts instinctively when you experience a violation to your dignity. It is lured by the temptation to preserve the self, no matter what. The “Me” is the part of the self that can function outside of our awareness. Driven by our evolutionary legacy, it wants to look good in the eyes of others, no matter what. It seeks external validation of its worth, constantly looking for praise and approval to feel good. It is vulnerable to criticism and reacts strongly when dignity is violated. This part of ourselves is overly concerned about the judgment of others: the content of its inner dialogue is always about “Am I good enough, smart enough, loveable enough? How do I measure up to others?” This judgment also extends to others. “Am I inferior or superior to them?” Evaluating oneself against others is a preoccupation.

The “Me” is also vulnerable to getting into conflict with others. It is defensive, reactive, and wants only to eliminate the source of the threat. It takes the bait, wanting to get even and seek revenge. The “Me” is the active player in the ten temptations. It will do whatever it takes—lie, deceive, cover up, shirk responsibility—to avoid losing status and good standing with others. It wants to protect the self at all costs.

The “I” is not dependent on others for its sense of worth. The “I” knows that its worth is unconditional. It has Mandela consciousness. It does not need external validation of its dignity. It views feedback as a growth opportunity, not as criticism. It is open to learning especially about aspects of the self that it cannot see but others can.

When we are firmly grounded in the “I,” we can experience all dimensions of dignity: a connection to our own dignity, to the dignity of others, to the natural world, and to something greater than ourselves. Unlike the “Me,” its goal is self-expansion and growth, not self-preservation.

An objective in dignity work is for us to be aware of both aspects of who we are. If we learn to recognize when we are “Me” driven, we will be able to fight the impulses that lure us into violating our own dignity—by wanting to cover up our bad behavior because we are fearful of looking bad. We need to develop a relationship between the two parts so that the “I” can come to the rescue of the “Me” when it wants to engage in self-destructive, self-violating behaviors. The “I” has what it takes to overpower the tyranny of the “Me.” Instead of looking outside of itself for validation and comfort, the “Me” turns inward, finding refuge in the “I.”

Knowing this about ourselves—that we have the internal resources to hold ourselves back when we feel the lure of the temptations—puts the power back into our hands. We do not have to be a slave to our instincts. We have what it takes to choose what is right, even when we have done wrong. (Pg.37)

Whistleblower lawsuit: 2010–2018

Lance Edward Armstrong is an American former professional road racing cyclist. He was known for winning the Tour de France seven consecutive times, from 1999 to 2005, the most in the event’s history, after recovering from testicular cancer.

In 2010, one of Armstrong’s former teammates, the American Floyd Landis, whose 2006 Tour De France victory was nullified after a positive doping test, sent a series of emails to cycling officials and sponsors admitting to, and detailing, his systematic use of performance-enhancing drugs during his career. The emails also claimed that other riders and cycling officials participated in doping, including Armstrong.[139]

Landis filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong under the federal False Claims Act.[140] The False Claims Act allows citizens to sue on behalf of the government alleging the government has been defrauded. The existence of the lawsuit, initially filed under seal, was first revealed by The Wall Street Journal in 2010. In the lawsuit, Landis alleged that Armstrong and team managers defrauded the US government when they accepted money from the US Postal Service. In January 2013, US Justice Department officials recommended joining the federal lawsuit aimed at clawing back money from Armstrong.[141]

In February, the US Department of Justice joined the whistleblower lawsuit, which also accused former Postal Service team director Johan Bruyneel and Tailwind Sports, the firm that managed the US Postal Service team, of defrauding the US.[142][143]

In April 2014, documents from the AIC case were filed by lawyers representing Landis in relation to the whistleblower suit. In these documents, Armstrong stated under oath that Jose “Pepi” Marti, Dr Pedro Celaya, Dr Luis Garcia del Moral and Dr Michele Ferrari had all provided him with doping products in the period up until 2005. He also named people who had transported or acted as couriers, as well as people that were aware of his doping practices.[144][145][146] One week later, the USADA banned Bruyneel from cycling for ten years and Celaya and Marti for eight years.[147]

In June 2014, US district judge Robert Wilkins denied Armstrong’s request to dismiss the government lawsuit stating “The court denies without prejudice the defendants’ motion to dismiss the government’s action as time-barred.”[148]

In February 2017, the court determined that the federal government’s US$100 million civil lawsuit against Armstrong, started by Landis, would proceed to trial.[149] The matter was settled in April 2018 when Armstrong agreed to pay the United States Government US$5 million. During the proceedings it was revealed that the US Postal Service had paid US$31 million in sponsorship to Armstrong and Tailwind Sports between 2001 and 2004. The Department of Justice accused Armstrong of violating his contract with the USPS and committing fraud when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs. It was reported that Landis would receive US$1.1 million as a result of his whistleblower actions.[150]

WE&P by EZorrilla.

Donna Hicks 

Donna Hicks is an Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. Dr.Hicks was Deputy Director of the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution (PICAR) at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.

Dr. Donna Hicks is an Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.  Dr. Hicks was Deputy Director of the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution (PICAR) at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.  She worked extensively on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and as a member of the third party in numerous unofficial diplomatic efforts. In addition to her work in the Middle East, Dr. Hicks founded and co-directed a ten-year project in Sri Lanka, which brought the Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim communities together for dialogue. She has been actively involved with the conflict in Colombia, where she was invited to give workshops and lectures in conflict resolution.

For several years, she was involved in a project designed to improve relations between the US and Cuba.  She is the Vice President of Ara Pacis, an Italian organization sponsored by the Italian Foreign Ministry.  They are currently involved in a dignity restoration project in Syria and Libya. Dr. Hicks was a consultant to the British Broadcasting Company where she co-facilitated encounters between victims and perpetrators of the Northern Irish conflict with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The encounters were made into 3 television programs that were aired throughout the United Kingdom and on BBC World.  Dr. Hicks has taught courses in conflict resolution at Harvard, Clark, and Columbia Universities and conducts trainings and educational seminars in the US and abroad on the role dignity plays in healing and reconciling relationships in conflict as well as dignity leadership training.  She consults to corporations, schools, churches, and non-governmental organization. She is the author of the book, Dignity: It’s Essential Role in Resolving Conflict, published in 2011 by Yale University Press.  Her new book, Leading with Dignity:  How to Create a Culture That Brings Out the Best in People was just released by Yale University Press in August 2018.  

For more information, go to http://drdonnahicks.com 

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