Recently I’ve been having trouble with my tics; I’ve been feeling more and more of a need to suppress as to not disturb anybody. For anybody with knowledge of Tourette Syndrome, you’ll know that suppression is very much unhelpful because the tics will inevitably come out, just at another time. Over the last week or so I’ve been doing some reading into the philosophical underpinnings of what we know to be ‘dignity’, and I came across a chapter in Andrew Sayer’s “Why Things Matter to People: Social Science, Values, and Ethical Life” that hit me like a ton of bricks.
In this book, Sayer talks about the origins of Flamenco as a genre/style of dance. Though not fully known, the roots of flamenco seem to lie in Roma migration from Rajasthan in northwest India to Spain between the 9th and 14th centuries. These migrants were considered lesser than the existing population within Spain, and were thought of as people without any dignity.
Now there are many approaches to the concept of dignity within philosophy, but a common one is the assumed intrinsic nature of dignity to human being; that is to say that if you are a human, dignity is a part of your very being. Some say that this comes from a Christianity-influenced understanding of man as made in God’s very image. However, people have discussed the fragility of dignity also, considering it as something that is very much dependent on your actions and your ability to act in an appropriate manner.
Whilst the extent of our dignity may be partially influenced by relationality, Flamenco as a style of dance, so Sayer theorises, can be used to illustrate an example of the assertion of the intrinsic dignity that constitutes our very human being. Sayer writes:
“By bending the lower leg up from the knee behind her and then bringing it down forcefully, the dancer manages to stamp without bouncing… By this means an aura of controlled power can be signaled. There is an improbable conjunction of dignity or self-command in bearing and movement with catharsis…” (p206-207)
The performance of Flamenco then is a powerful reclamation of the dignity that others tell people they do not have. It is the assertion of the power that comes from knowing that dignity is a part of our make-up. It stamps away, showcasing to others the dignity that they accused these migrants of not having.
He goes on to write “And it is not only that the appearance of the dance is one of dignity and power: doing it gives the dancer a feeling of dignity and empowerment” (p207). In short, Flamenco not only performs and showcases dignity, but it reaffirms it to the performers themselves. It is a powerful reclamation of dignity that was once ridden absent.
So what is the relevance for Tourette Syndrome then? Perhaps, baring all of this in mind, we can consider the releasing of tourettic tics as this powerful assertion of the dignity that is intrinsic to human being, also. I might not have full control over the way that I perform it, but perhaps the active refusal to abide by society’s requirement of me to suppress as to not disturb others is, in itself, asserting my dignity. Perhaps I need to stop thinking of my tics as something to be ashamed of, but as something to be proud of; something that allows me, as somebody rendered ‘undignified’, to stand firm in the knowledge that I not only have dignity, but that dignity is me. It is part of my very make-up. Of course, this is not to conflate the experiences of Rajasthani migrants with that of Tourettic individuals, but perhaps this frameworking offers some useful approaches for the consideration of tourettic tics.
If you are a fellow ticcer, maybe it’s time to think of your tics similarly too. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so do feel free to comment or get in touch!