This article explains the challenge of growing with inherent dignity and what you can do about it. Let’s explore…

“I think, therefore I am”

This statement by René Descartes became a fundamental element of Western philosophy and is at the heart of the western analytical approach to life. It is self-focused.

“I am, because of the others”

This statement is a translation of the African wisdom tradition of “Ubuntu”. It is also the essence of Christianity and Buddhism, both of which encourage giving up self-identity to discover your true self. It is focused on others.

Should we focus on ourselves, or should we focus on others? Can we do both?

What does “thinking” have to do with “identity”?

In the international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman and Tversky, propose two types of Thinking:

  • System 1 is fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, and unconscious.  In a word, it is instinctful.
  • System 2 is slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, and conscious.  In a word, it is thoughtful.

Our identity is based on our belief system. Our belief system comprises our espoused conscious beliefs but, more importantly, our hidden or unconscious beliefs. Unconscious beliefs are essential to understand because they are a significant driver of our behavioural habits. Ever tried to give up a behavioural habit? If you look deep enough into the behaviour, you will discover a hidden belief that holds it in place. Where do those unconscious beliefs exist? System 1.

System 1 is instinctful. The primary function of instinct is to keep us safe. In a psychological context, that means providing a sense of security. Our identity is predominately a System 1 thinking mechanism to maintain our psychological safety. The thing about security and maintaining our identity is that it creates stability and a pressure for things to stay just as they are. In other words, our identity doesn’t like change.

What does “I am, because of the others” have to do with “Being”?

Human “beings” are social animals. We rely on each other to survive. Our very existence relies on our fellow humans. “Being” by definition means to exist or, a state of existence.

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”

John Joseph Powell

We can only know our true selves when we are with others. “Being” with others is how we come to know who we really are.

”Being” with others serves another important human need. It is how human’s innovate and learn the most effectively. Our collective wisdom has served to support our evolution since we first sat around fires in the Stone Age figuring out how to survive. The thing that sets us apart from other animals is our ability to have empathy with each other. That empathy is what enables us to problem solve together. “Being” with others is how we change.

Inherent Dignity

What do we have if we meet our need of “Being” and maintain our sense of “Identity”? We have “Dignity”.

There are many forms of dignity and the theoretical depth of this topic is well beyond this article. From the Buddhist perspective, dignity is an inherent quality of fundamental wholeness and completeness that we all naturally possess. From a Christian perspective human dignity is grounded in the sanctity of human life—in the fact that humans, created in the image of God, are set apart by God from the rest of creation.

In a more practical sense, think about what most people seek when they are faced with a life-threatening situation. Their primary concerns are their existence or “Being”, their “Identity” and accordingly, their “Inherent Dignity”.

It is not just in life-threatening situations. For most of us, when we feel under pressure or feel threatened, our primary concerns are again – “Being”, “Identity” and maintaining our “Inherent Dignity”.

For me, “Inherent Dignity” encapsulates all four of the foundations of The Theory of Constraints.

The “simplicity” of being, the “harmony” we all seek, recognising “the goodness in all people” and our “ inherent potential”. These are the hallmarks of “Inherent Dignity” Unlocking our “Inherent Dignity” is the key to living a full and satisfying life.

For a deeper discussion on the four pillars of The Theory of Constraints see Mohit Saini’s article: Four Pillars of Theory of Constraints (TOC).

The Problem

Let me read the diagram back to you from left to right.

To maintain our “Inherent Dignity”, we need to “Be”. Our need for “Being” creates a desire to be with others – “I am, because of the others”. Have you ever noticed that “Being” with others is very satisfying? Human beings will go to great lengths to fit in with others. We will change how we think to fit in and we may even change our identity. This is the key to any personal or cultural transformation.


To maintain our “Inherent Dignity”, we assume we need our “Identity”. Our “Identity” is a means of gaining psychological security driven by our System 1, instinctful “Thinking” – “I think, therefore I am”. That kind of thinking will keep you safe, maintain your sense of identity and keep everything just as it currently is.

By now, you should see the problem. “I think, therefore I am” and “I am, because of the others” appear to be mutually exclusive. On one hand we want to stay safe and just as we currently are (not change). On the other hand we want to fit in, change and evolve (change).

There is more to this problem. Trying to maintain your “Identity” and the security that comes with it will jeopardise your connection with others. It separates us from the others.

“Being” with others requires us to be vulnerable and trust each other. That often doesn’t feel very safe. It is easier and safer to to rely on our own thinking. It’s easier to focus on our own identity.

Growth and Inherent Dignity

When we have a desire to change so that we fit in with the others and we have a desire not change so we can maintain our identity we resist change. When we resist change we slow our growth. Growth is our greatest source of dignity. Without growth we lose our dignity.

Growth requires that we seek out inherent simplicity, find harmony with others, recognise the inherent goodness in our selves and others and believe in our potential.

“When you stop growing you start dying”

William S. Burroughs

When we are dying our desire for inherent dignity increases. We want to keep growing.

“As human beings we’re set up to protect ourselves—but it is just as true that we’re set up to grow psychologically, to evolve, to develop. In fact, research shows that the single biggest cause of work burnout is not work overload, but working too long without experiencing your own personal development.”

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

Understanding this conflict is the first step to understanding how to grow with “Inherent Dignity”.

How do you resolve this conflict?

I have presented this discussion as an evaporating cloud. It is a form of dialectical thinking created by Dr Eliyahu Goldratt. Goldratt points out that solving a problem like this will involve a compromise. That is what most people do. They compromise by resisting change, trying to tell others what to think or accepting what others think without question. These are strategies for protecting our identity. They do not work if you want to grow with dignity. The compromise and subsequent defensive behaviour leads to slowing the growth of self and others. It leads to less dignity.

The Evaporating Clouds method does not strive to reach a compromise solution, rather it concentrates on invalidating the problem itself.

Eliyahu Goldratt

How do you invalidate the problem?

Here are some questions to help you invalidate the problem for yourself:

What type of thinking do you use the most? System 1 or System 2?

The more you embrace System 2 the less dominance System 1 will have. Learning how to think logically is about System 2. Being able to trust your logic will make it easier to change. That includes changing your beliefs and what you think you are capable of – your “identity”. It will make it easier for you to grow.

What can you do to embrace more logic?

Who around you can help you with a safe space where you can be vulnerable enough to change who you think you are and what you think you know?

Seek out “being” with others. Create a safe space and then apply logic together.

I would like to leave you with one more clue to unlocking the “Inherent Dignity” for yourself and others. It relates to our potential and is just four words from Goldratt:

”Never say I know”

More on Inherent Dignity

Donna Hicks takes a deeper look at “Dignity”: