Dignity Index- A developing Proposal

A summary of these proposals, developed for the 12th annual conference, is now available in both PowerPoint format and in .pdf format.

The HDHS network has assembled a Global Dignity & Humiliation Assessment Team to create a global humiliation assessment. The goal is to use this information to influence public policy and reduce the tragedies of humiliation that are so common and destructive throughout the world. The dignity index described here and elsewhere measures progress in eliminating humiliation and expanding human expression around the world.

Together we can end oppression and promote expression.

Building Upon the Human Rights Declaration

A direct measure of humiliation may be difficult, especially in areas where the humiliation is endemic. People may not understand what is being asked, or oppression may be so ubiquitous and the people so habituated that it is difficult for them to adopt an unhumiliated viewpoint. This may require an indirect approach, at least to get started. Human rights violations cause and sustain humiliation. Therefore an excellent starting point is to assess violations of the UN’s “universal declaration of human rights” that take place in the country. This may be an effective proxy or surrogate for a direct measure of humiliation, assuming the declaration is on track for the causes of oppression and resulting humiliation. Perhaps some of this work has already been done; the declaration is a well-established document. Also, it may be possible to estimate this by examining public documents such as the countries’ constitution and validated and representative news reports. If a country scores well in this approximate scale, the people may be free enough that the citizens can directly report their humiliation experiences in more detail.

Using the declaration unchanged and in its entirety allows the index to inherit the prestige, legitimacy, and respect the declaration has accrued over its 59-year long history. Compliance with the declaration is necessary, but not sufficient to create an environment where dignity can be fully recognized and preserved.

A refinement would be to look through the declaration and evaluate and quantify the humiliation effect of each clause of the declaration. For example, Article 4 slavery, might cause greater humiliation than Article 20 the right to assembly. These could be give relative scores (e.g. -10 points for slavery and -2 points for assembly) by an expert panel.

Effecting Change

Measurements often focus changes in behavior. Measurements are important because they can make progress and problems visible. Well chosen measurements in a well-run organization direct improvement efforts toward attaining established goals that are shared by people who can make needed changes. Other measurements are ignored or misused. As humiliation is measured it is important to answer the question: “Who do we expect to change and how will the measurements accelerate their constructive efforts?” Early in the “Quality Movement” Joseph Juran recognized that the people who had to change to improve product quality were the corporate CEOs and the language they spoke was the language of money. He developed a measure called the “Cost of (poor) quality” to communicate the importance of quality improvement to the top levels of a corporation. The analogy here is to measure the “Cost of Humiliation” in terms that are meaningful to the people causing the humiliation (the perpetrators) more than to the humiliated (they already know).

In his popular book The No Asshole Rule, Robert I. Sutton outlines how to calculate how much “assholes” cost the organization, largely as a result of the humiliation they stimulate. He labels this “TCA” for the “Total Cost of Assholes” who include bullies, creeps, jerks, tyrants, tormentors, despots, backstabbers, and egomaniacs. This is very similar to the “Cost of Humiliation” proposed here.

We will identify the change targets, the change agents, and the types of communications that can be most effective in influencing and informing them.


Humiliated people need to tell their story and have it heard. The quantitative index is supplemented with powerful and representative narratives. This helps to identify the most highly leveraged change that could reduce humiliation. In this approach oppressed people are asked: “What single change (in the social, political, or physical environment) would be most effective in reducing the humiliation you experience.” This helps identify simple changes that can provide an important and rapid improvement. This also focuses priorities for the improvement efforts while it humanizes the process.

Subscales—the good, the bad and the ugly

The human spirit can prevail despite hardship, deprivation, oppression, and tragedy. The most full and glorious expression of human dignity emerges from an environment that preserves human rights while it inspires the human spirit. Therefore, the human dignity index is a composite of two major subscales, one for measuring human rights deficits and the other for measuring inspiration of the human spirit. Overall it measures inspiration without indignity; expression without oppression. The scales are calculated as follows:

Human Dignity Index = Human Expression Index - Human Oppression Index.

Or in shorthand: D-Scale = E-Scale - O-Scale = E-Scale + R-Scale -1000 The range is from +1000 to -1000.

  • Human Oppression Index = The complement of the Human Rights Index, calculated as 1000 - Human Rights Index. In shorthand: this O-Scale = 1000 - R-Scale.
  • Human Rights Index – Compliance with the UN Declaration of Human Rights measured on a scale from 0-1000 where 1000 represents full and effective compliance with the declaration. This is the R-Scale.
  • Human Expression Index – Inspiration of the Human Spirit: creativity, courage, curiosity, invention, transcendence, amazement, and awe. Measure the number of artists, inventors, comedians, adventurers, and explorers. Normalize to a scale of 1000. This is the E-Scale.

The two basic subscales reflect the core concepts in the Kano model of customer satisfaction. Satisfaction requires both the absence of deficit conditions and presence of exciting or inspiring conditions. The R-Scale measures the absence of deficit conditions and the E-Scale measures the presence of exciting conditions.

Guidelines for preparing and evaluating each report are available:

The following questionnaires are provided as an alternative or supplement to the reports. They can also be used to provide an independent verification or cross check of the report:


We can learn a lot from the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, especially their freely-published Criteria for Performance Excellence booklet.

This provides well designed and refined criteria for writing and evaluating applicant’s reports. The criteria, described beginning on page 7 (13 pdf) is an especially good model for writing the reports. The scoring system, described beginning on page 63 (69 pdf) of the booklet, is an especially good model for evaluating the reports.

Leveraged Logistics

The resources of the HDHS network are severely limited while the extent of humiliation around the world is huge. To most effectively use these resources, the HDHS provides a service to countries, regions, and organizations wanting to evaluate and improve their level of dignity and reduce their levels of humiliation. Applicants representing particular countries or regions submit two reports to HDHS: one describing how they ensure human rights are preserved, and the other describing how human expression is inspired and encouraged. The HDHS studies these reports, evaluates them against carefully designed and publically described criteria, and privately provides to the applicants:

  • Constructive feedback on areas where each country can improve,
  • An O-scale score in the range of 0-1000
  • An E-scale score in the range of 0-1000
  • The option to publicize these results.

The integrity and prestige of the process, the constructive interactions it provides, and the privacy it preserves all encourage countries around the world to participate in this voluntary activity.

This approach has the added advantage that it begins the difficult task of change agency. It is likely that the in-country people who research, complete, and submit the report will be interested in the outcome of the evaluation. They may also be in a position to begin implementing changes that can improve human rights in their organization. Contrast this with the problem of trying to find an interested and change-capable audience for questionnaire data collected by some third party.

Related Work

Survey the human rights watch organization, amnesty international, the UN Commission on Human Rights, and other organizations for assessments of human rights.

Existing work that can contribute to this effort includes:

Respect Levels

Respect for humans varies greatly around the world. The fortunate people of Switzerland enjoy prosperity, stability, and harmony, while families are regularly tortured and destroyed in the tragic Darfur region of the Sudan. The following table characterizes this range of respect into five overall levels of maturity.

Name Typical Indignities O-Scale Range E-Scale Range
Inspirational: Don Klein style Very few, appreciation and inspiration prevail. 0 1000–600
Respectful: evolving, transforming Thoughtless people, some crimes, some dishonesty and cheating. 0 500–700

Peaceful: non-violent, disciplined.

Government establishes the rule of law and guarantees human rights.

Small pockets of poverty, violent crimes, security concerns; disrespectful, dishonest, and greedy people; healthcare inaccessible for many; insecurity. 100–0 300–600

Chaotic: Lawless, anarchy.

Government is absent or ineffective.

Poverty. Needs for water, food and shelter not met. Rampant violent crime. Vigilantes. Death and disease are commonplace. 500–100 100–400

Oppressed: Violent, antagonistic.

Government oppresses and attacks the people.

Profound poverty. Needs for water, food, and shelter rarely met. Horrendous violence from genocide, war or violent crime. Tyranny. Death and disease are commonplace. 1000–500 0–200

These descriptions alone are sufficient to begin to characterize and quantitatively describe the conditions in which many people live. This provides an efficient short-form dignity index. For example, overall the United States is at the Peaceful level, and the Sudan is oppressed on this scale. Individuals and sub-groups in those countries have experiences better, typical, or worse than the overall level for their country.

A variety of assessment instruments are required to span this wide range.

A Proposed Humiliation Impact Rating Scale

Publication of the Social Readjustment Rating Scale was a landmark event in the study of stress. An analogous scale, the Humiliation Impact Rating Scale, is proposed to help standardize comparisons of humiliating events.

A Tentative Integrated Model

What factors contribute to humiliation? What are the roles and contributions of the perpetrator, victim, and observer? How does a humiliated victim respond? These questions require further exploration. However, a tentative integrated model based on the defining characteristics of an “unjust insult that exposes powerlessness” is proposed here for further discussion.

The neurobiology and physiology of Humiliation

The neurobiology of stress is described in Robert Sapolsky’s book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. The neurobiology of fear is described in Joseph E. Ledoux’s book The Emotional Brain. Humiliation has such a powerful effect it seems likely it also has a distinct physiological and neurobiological signature. Discovering that signature can help clarify and align our efforts. Perhaps that signature can be objectively measured.


Change Agent:
People who can assist change targets.
Change Target:
People who can improve the system by changing their behavior.
The quality of worth and honor intrinsic to every person.
An event perceived to cause loss of honor and induce shame


These resources provide useful background for the effort:



  • Gaining prestige and recognition for the index
  • Identifying the change targets and change agents.
  • What is the scope of an assessment? Is it assessed and reported by: nation, nation-state, state, region, tribe, community, culture, person, organization, world . . .?
  • Validating (or evaluating) how accurately the surrogate instruments correspond to and measure humiliation
  • Writing the detailed criteria guide and scoring guide.
  • Recruiting and training examiners.
  • Veracity: validation, verification and site visits.
  • Defining the “Human Expression Index”
  • Define “Cost of Humiliation” calculations
  • Language Translations
  • Wiki