Perhaps the greatest loss is that of human dignity. Dignity demands some determination over one’s fate and standard of living. There is little room for dignity when fears of losing one’s home to a missed electricity tax payment resurface every month. There is little dignity to being a parent who has to entirely depend on your daughter to stay alive, and there is little dignity to being the daughter who cannot meaningfully help. The space that dignity could have occupied is now instead filled with shame: shame about all the things we wish we could do, and the collective web of helplessness that binds us. Dignity is personal, but like many other facets of identity–like masculinity, like victimhood–it is also continuously confirmed, contested, or validated by others. The indignity of many Greeks’ existence right now becomes especially unlivable when it is cast in the frame of having been earned: of being a just end to a trajectory of excess. Cast in this light, Greek dignity and its lack are invisible, blinded instead by notions of justice and deserving and agency and responsibility — notions which, in turn, blind our compassion.
I checked the “reader” home page of WordPress for the first time; and I found the blog site names [Stories of Conflict and Love]. The name only, triggered my mind. I opened the first post that caught my attention. The paragraph above was quoted from her article – my favourite part of the post. I do not study majoring in sociology; hence, I do not have theory background to analyse situation but I interpret things in my own lenses – the lenses that have been with me throughout years living abroad. My friends in Vietnam assumed that my life abroad was luxurious and fancy likely. Maybe they are right, I have a biggest luxury living in Europe: the luxury of doing according to my own will. This luxury, in a way, is also the biggest dignity I have been trying to keep.
I had a lovely chat having coffee with a friend yesterday. I ended up telling her, I recalled myself being a girl always knowing what to do next. Back then, in order to reach success and happiness, I was shown and taught to follow one path, without re-considering. It sounds forceful; but it was easier. I started to question the path when my dignity was hit hard, for the first time. It was the dignity of being one of the best students in class, being smart. I slowly got over it after moving out of my country. There came another dignity of being one among the ones studying abroad. The dignity of being able to work in a popular or good international company, of being able to find a part-time job in the second year, of having a secured full time position after graduating. In my first year in Finland, that dignity was my force. The decisions I made, the things I chose, was to keep the dignity alive.
During my internship in London, I learnt realistic life of an adult-wanna-be had so little rooms for dignity. In exchange for experiences, for the preference of colleagues, I made my dignity smaller by following the orders, the “way they do things in the company”. That was only small part. I was a reckless girl back then and there. I ended up in consequence, in which I had no money left. I let go of my dignity, asking friends to borrow money because my parents were too furious to help. When I returned from London to Finland, I needed to find a part-time job, no matter what it would be. I let another part of my dignity go, doing newspaper delivery job with little money but I had to push the cart on a snowy road, under a snowy windy winter. That and hours sitting in the storage room grouping the newspaper which could only hurt my back and made me dizzy when I was done. I ended up quitting, came to my parents, and let go one big part of my dignity – being a helpless unsuccessful daughter who made childish choices. It was always hard for me to earn their pride; but at that time, it seemed to me I would never be able to earn such. The reckless actions I did in London, would remain stains which had not been washed out yet, until even now.
That summer, I took a job as a housekeeper in a cheap hotel in Finland. There were days I accepted to work for 10 hours; I was paying my due, for my consequences. But then in recent summer and autumn, I again worked as a cleaner for a supermarket, getting up at 3 or 4 am in the morning, cleaning all the toilets in one of the biggest supermarkets in the city. I could not find any other options, and all I need was money to be independent, to not being such a helpless daughter.
I had lots of dignity I have let go. Every time a small part goes away, it equals my plan is forced to be changed and I have to make an improvising choice. As Roxana said, “The space that dignity could have occupied is now instead filled with shame: shame about all the things we wish we could do, and the collective web of helplessness that binds us“. However, the bottom of all these “letting go” is one dignity I cannot lose – being independent.