Published: May 21, 2018

Original article can be found at Denver Post  
Originally published on May 21, 2018 By Patty Limerick 

In 2018, that wondrous human quality named “dignity” has been keeping a very low profile. 

Dignity, it would be reasonable to conclude on many days, has fled the nation’s capital, and may have been given a new identity in a new witness protection program recently created for virtues under siege. 

And yet, every now and then, we hear of reported sightings. Dignity has taken to showing up in Arizona, when Senator Jeff Flake confronts the specter of ethical calamity in the White House and invites his fellow elected officials to join him in integrity, and when Senator John McCain confronts the specter of death and invites his fellow citizens to unleash the better angels of their nature. 

But then the currents of public life return to their disturbed and disturbing state, leaving us in a civic world made all the more desolate by the brevity of dignity’s return visits. 

So where might we turn to launch a recovery from our desolation? How about the dictionary? 
Even as we lament the ways that the proliferation of digital media has degraded the standing of truth and accuracy, the dictionary is a human accomplishment that has made a smooth and beneficial transition from the print world to the world of the internet. Several on-line dictionaries occupy an unusual role in our world today: they are at once instantly accessible to all, and entirely trustworthy. 

And, more and more, dictionaries are acquiring an entirely new role: as a “lost and found” facility, reconnecting us with virtues whose company we seem to have lost. 

Even if exiled from the nation’s centers of power, dignity proves to be tranquilly holding court on “bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciating the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation.” 

Fellow citizens, when you are getting ready to vote in the elections of 2018 and 2020, by all means, explore the match between your own political preferences and the positions taken by particular candidates. And then select your chosen candidates on the basis of the compatibility between your own convictions and the principles these figures hold. 

And then insist that, in order to qualify for your vote, your candidates must stay in compliance with that definition of dignity at a minimum of 50% of the time. 

Is this a practical and plausible suggestion? We won’t know until we try it. 
We do know this: the pendulum that traces the arc of American civic discourse has been on an extended swing away from civility and toward incivility, away from honest curiosity and toward self-righteous certainty, away from dignity and toward indignity. 

And now for a wild prediction: That pendulum has gone as far as it can go, and it is about to reverse directions. 

Whatever its fate, this prophecy presents a win/win situation. If it proves true, a huge wave of relief is headed toward us. 
If it falls flat, I have volunteered as a target for a round of merriment and mockery that will, at least momentarily, distract us from our troubles. 

While I am always receptive to merriment, I’d much prefer relief. And relief, as it happens, is yet another fine noun waiting to be found at “alleviation, ease, or deliverance through the removal of pain or distress.”