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Advocating for the dignity of others

Linda Hartling works with a global organization that is dedicated to ending cycles of humiliation — work that has earned it two Nobel Peace Prize nominations


REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego resident Linda Hartling directs a global network of more than 1,000 academics, practitioners, activists, artists and others who believe that dignity is a basic human right. Linda Hartling has a simple goal: to help build a world in which people are willing to “risk their lives and careers to advocate for the dignity of others.”

She’s been working to create that reality since the early 1990s, when she and a handful of other researchers planted the seeds for what was to become an organization called Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS).

For the most part, the group has operated under the radar of world attention. But behind the scenes, it has grown into a global network of more than 1,000 academics, practitioners, activists, artists and others who believe that dignity is a basic human right. And for the past two years, it has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

“The thing that makes us unique,” says Hartling, who lives in Lake Oswego, “is that we emphasize putting relationships first. We’ve grown organically, and now we’re working with people in governments and the military who have the potential to influence other people and increase the understanding of the dynamics of humiliation. How can we transform these dynamics? How can we support the dignity of everyone?”

To answer those questions, HumanDHS has committed itself to ongoing education through a series of books and research papers, online blogs and publications, a World Dignity University initiative and annual conferences held in the U.S. and across the world.

This year’s gatherings will be held in Croatia in September and in New York City in December.

“Humiliation is such a huge topic,” Hartling says. “We really needed a diverse range of voices. I’m very excited about how many people are interested in this topic.”

It wasn’t always that way.

When the idea first blossomed for an organization dedicated to healing cycles of humiliation around the world, there were only three people involved: Hartling, Evelin Lindner and Donald Klein.

“I was doing research on humiliation from the psychological perspective, the individual level of humiliation,” Hartling says. “Evelin had done research on Rwanda and Somalia regarding global conflict. Don wrote papers on the impact of humiliation in the 1990s.”

The network of interested researchers slowly grew, eventually reaching critical mass in December 2001 with the formation of HumanDHS. The group is primarily grounded in academic work and its basic aim is to raise awareness, but the hope is that the work its members do will inspire intervention that leads to reducing — and ultimately eliminating — destructive disrespect and humiliating practices around the world.

Hartling credits Lindner, who was the founding president of HumanDHS, for much of the organization’s success. Until November 2008 — when Hartling was named director of HumanDHS — Lindner was the only person to dedicate her life full-time to supporting its cause.

“She has dedicated her entire life to people in the world around issues of human dignity,” Hartling says. “She is the backbone of our organization.”

Hartling, who grew up in Beaverton, is also key to HumanDHS’s success. She began her career as a teacher at several Oregon school districts before transitioning to a career in drug and alcohol prevention and education. Before joining HumanDHS full-time, she served as associate director and research scientist at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, part of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Oregon and a Ph.D. in clinical and community psychology from The Union Institute Graduate School in Ohio. Her work on resilience, substance abuse prevention, shame and humiliation, relational practice in the workplace and Relational-Cultural Theory has been published in books and professional journals worldwide.

Among her major accomplishments: developing a “Humiliation Inventory” to evaluate the internal experience of derision and degradation. The scale has been translated into several languages, including Italian, French, Japanese and Korean.

“Hundreds of groups are forming around the world,” Hartling says. “We are feeling this affirmation when people risk their lives and careers to advocate for the dignity of others.”

But you don’t have to leave the U.S. to see the need for groups like HumanDHS, she says.

“Humiliation is pervasive,” Hartling says. “Look at our political scene. Candidates are making personal attacks and degrading their opponents instead of debating issues. I don’t think politicians recognize the long-term impact of using humiliation practices.

“Humiliation has a boomerang effect,” she says. “You can throw it out there, but it comes back.”

For more information about Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, go to www.humiliationstudies.org.

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..