Banking on Our Future for Beginners Part II: Defining Dignity


Ann and I ask the students to draw pictures of role models in their lives. Sherry Tao, a third HOPE fellow, joins along in the activity.

BOOF For Beginners Part II: Defining Dignity

Read Part One

The word dignity is an elusive term – something difficult for adults to understand let alone children. Yet Operation HOPE stresses dignity as a fundamental aspect of our Banking on Our Future youth curriculum.

Ann and I braced ourselves. As young adults, we’re still learning the definition of dignity with every step we take.

When we returned to Choice Group Inc., dignity was on the lesson plan for our second session with the young musicians. We were both intimidated by the prospect of communicating our own understanding of dignity to young children.

For me dignity meant self-respect. I wanted to convey to the kids the importance of self-confidence and optimism mixed with the wisdom of humility.

Ann emphasized the relationship between dignity and financial planning. She argued that a dignified person used his or her money to invest in the future of the self, the family, and the community.

We had good ideas, but we had no idea whether or not a group of young children could process our interpretations of a dignified life while keeping perspective. Would these kids understand the personal aspect of dignity?

Our concerns brought us to Kevin Fleming, the director of the Banking on Our Future Program, someone who has taught thousands of kids the same lessons with which we struggled.

“Why don’t you just ask them?” Kevin asked. While we weren’t about to open a Socratic forum on the definition of a life well-led, with a set of markers and post-its, the kids at Choice Group Inc. had some profound ideas to contribute to our understanding of dignity.

Each student began drawing pictures of dignified people in their lives.  Aaron, one of the older, but less outspoken students suggested his mother’s hard work was a form of dignity. She sacrificed her time and money to keep Aaron and Dijon (his brother) happy and well-educated.

After taking time to show respect to important people in our lives, Ashley (age eight) took extra care to draw beautiful representations of her friends. In Ashley’s eyes, a life of dignity was a life filled with family and friends.

Leaving the second session at Choice Group Inc., it became clear that our understandings of dignity could never be accurately conceived in our office cloister. Words like self-respect and empowerment become clear through the human examples in our lives.

The work of organizations like Operation HOPE bring passionate people and conceptions of dignity together to make our examples more intricate and all-encompassing. Dignity can’t be taught through textbooks, and that’s the beauty of a program like BOOF.

While BOOF fosters an environment for kids to grow and learn, it also forces grown-ups to slow down and take time to listen to kids. So while we’re banking on the future of children, we’re also taking time for our own future – to bring lessons of dignity to both the young and the old (and everyone in between!)

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