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On Dignity

By Peter N. Maduro, J.D., Psy.D., Psy.D. - Tuesday, September 05, 2017
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Instead of a dignity inherent to the human person, and an associated duty to respect it, I find dignity and indignity taking form out of the indeterminate possibilities that characterize any moment of relating between people. Otherwise indeterminate possibilities take one form when a person relates with validating and valuing care for another and his suffering, and take a very different form when such person relates to the other with invalidating, degrading contempt or violence. I see no inherent human value, nor thus any given duty to protect it, but rather inherent possibility and thus human opportunity to steer it in one direction or another --for better or worse.

In this latter regard, my psychoanalytic inquiries into the phenomenology of traumatized persons, and my own personal experience, sadly suggest that the possibility of, and opportunity to create, value in human life is routinely ignored, mistreated and extinguished in the actions and omissions --often horrifying-- of one man to another. Consequently, I often see people for whom there is no sense of inherent value whatsoever, and for whom “dwelling” (see Stolorow: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-relating-existing/201308/undergoing-the-situation) therapeutically with them would entail not dissuasion, but rather candid acknowledgement, of the matteringlessness in their being-with-others to date.

Perhaps ironically, one ascribes value to them, and their emotional life, not by blowing sunshine into their darkness with assurances of their souls’ intrinsic importance, but instead by dwelling with such persons’ painful matteringlessness now.


 


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About the Author

Peter N. Maduro, J.D.,Psy.D., Psy.D is a clinical and forensic psychologist, and psychoanalyst with a private practice in Santa Monica & South Pasadena, CA. He is a Faculty Member and Training and Supervising Analyst at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles.