At Work & Theology 101

How Does Your Workplace Showcase Human Dignity?

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Since childhood, many of us were raised to respect the people around us, particularly our elders. Since that time, habits and training can be either lost or honed. The work environment is an excellent place to demonstrate respect for those around us, of both high and low rank.

This was a lesson I recently learned again first hand.

In my office we have a front desk worker who is there from 9:30-4:30 each day. For his first three months in our office, I didn’t even know his name, even though I passed by him multiple times a day on my way in and out of the office.

I made a practice of saying a quick hello here and there, but hardly with regularity. I didn’t take the time to introduce myself or get to know a little more about him.

About a month and a half ago, he asked me why I was always in such a hurry, whipping by his desk with places to go and hardly a word to be said. He said it without malice; he just wanted to know what was up.

His words hit home. Not in a “punch-in-the-gut” kind of way, but in a friendly “tap-on-the-shoulder” kind of way. The message I heard was, “Hey, I’m here, and I’m a human being.”

I acknowledged that he was correct, and apologized. But what was the big deal behind my failure to acknowledge my co-worker with genuine human decency?

When God made human beings, he made us on the last day of creation. It speaks to humanity’s dignity that we were created in the final act, a crown on creation. Not only were we the final creation, we were made in the image of God, unique among creation.

Genesis 1:26-27 reads,

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.

Humanity was infused with dignity and value from the first day of our existence. The word “image” in the verse above comes from the Hebrew word, tselem, which refers to an outline or representation of the original. Human beings are representative of God not in form necessarily, but in characteristics. We are set apart from the rest of creation in that sense.

From this foundational theology comes the reason for human rights broadly, and specifically why we should show respect to those in our workplaces – especially those we walk past quickly or overlook. In not affirming another’s dignity, we’re overlooking what they have to offer the world. Art Lindsley explains what dignity and being made in the image of God mean for how we view others:

Being made in the image of God provides the basis for our work and vocation. If we are made in the image of God, we share his characteristics. For example, because God is creative, we can be creative in our work, and in fact, are called to such creativity. Also, knowing the basis for our dignity and worth helps us believe that we have gifts and talents to employ. I know many people who haven’t discovered their calling because they don’t believe they have anything to offer. They don’t believe they have dignity and worth, and fail to recognize their God-given gifts as a result.

In ignoring the man at the front desk of my office, I was ignoring his creativity, dignity, worth, and God-given gifts. I’m reminded of the famous C.S. Lewis quote, from The Weight of Glory:

There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. 

Lindsley further explains what this means in a previous post.

The people you see every day, even the ones to whom you give little regard, are ones that are going to live forever either under salvation or judgment. Even the most obscure person is not ordinary in God’s eyes.

After offering this explanation, Lindsley posed the following question:

In light of this truth, how do we affirm the dignity of the people around us?

If the workplace is a potential showcase for our dignity, exercised through our creativity and talents, how can we affirm the dignity of those around us in our workplaces?

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