Treating Someone with Dignity

faith article

Treating Someone with Dignity: What does it mean and how do you do it?

by Phillip A. Cooley, President/Owner, Homewatch CareGivers 

All of us want to be treated “with dignity.” In the caregiving arena, we all subscribe to the goal of treating those for whom we care “with dignity.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sounds noble.

Yet, treating others with dignity may not be as simple as we first thought. What does it mean to treat someone with dignity? How do you do it?

The first thought that comes to mind for most of us is the Golden Rule, a form of which is found in most major religions. The Golden Rule teaches us to do unto other as we would have them do unto us. Treat people with honesty. Treat people with kindness. Treat people with compassion. We could go on.

But when it comes to treating people with dignity, it gets a little more complicated. Without criticizing the wisdom of the ancients, here is the rub: whoever said that everyone else likes to be treated the same way that I like to be treated. Trust me, they don’t. It took me a long time to understand that.

So if treating others “with dignity” means that they may not wish to be treated in the same way that I like to be treated, then how then do we know how they like to be treated, so that they feel a sense of dignity in our interactions?

Well now…if we have arrived at this point of understanding, then we are ready to begin a journey that will last a life time and that will ultimately bring us more growth, learning and enrichment than we could ever imagine. What we will receive will be far greater than anything we could ever give.

So, how do you get started treating others “with dignity?” How do you find out how others like to be treated? Here are a few suggestions that can get you started.

  1. If you want to know how others want to be treated, talk to them. Ask them. And then, most importantly, listen to them. Actively listen to them. People want to know that they matter . . . that they matter to you. The best way to make people feel that they matter is to listen to them, take what they tell you seriously, and then factor what they tell you into the way your treat them.
  2. If you really want to treat others with dignity, then level the playing field. Treat the one for whom you are caring as an equal partner in your relationship together. As a caregiver or as a professional, you know things that the other person does not know. Granted. But the other person knows some very important things that you do not know also. How do you level the playing field? A few thoughts.
    1. It all starts with rights. The right to know what is happening to them. The right to know what options are available to them, even options that their caregivers and medical professionals might not approve of. The right to make choices about their care. The right to change their minds. How do you know what they want with regard to their rights? Talk to them and listen.
    2. Then, there is the fundamental conviction that all persons, regardless of their condition, have the capacity to learn and to grow. If you do not believe that, then it is all about “doing for,” instead of “doing together.”
    3. Finally, there is the fundamental, conviction that all persons have the ability “to give” as well as “to receive.”

In North Carolina, as well as in most of the rest of the nation, we operate under a medical model of identifying a patient/client’s deficiencies and then proceeding with the idea that we caregivers/professionals will fix or address those deficiencies.

What if we changed our mindsets to value the whole person and to say that here are our challenges. So, how can we work together to address these issues? We are definitely making progress in the healthcare field, but we have a ways to go.

So, these principles will solve all of our problems in providing care “with dignity.” Right? Wrong! Relationships are difficult, period! It does not matter if it is a marriage, parent/ child, caregiving or professional/patient relationship. But these principles will set us on a journey of learning and growing. And, if we practice them as best we can, they will instill confidence in the persons we care for that we take them seriously and “with dignity.”