This is one of the most fundamental differences between an individualist and a personalist perspective. Human dignity, the unconditional requirement that we attend with reverence to one another, rests firmly on that conviction that the other is already related to something that is not me. Without that conviction, we are in serious ethical trouble. That is why some people, like Robert Spaemann, insist that there is a connection between the notion of human dignity and the notion of the sacred – not only the specific ways in which this or that religion talks about the sacred, but in the sense that there is in the other something utterly demanding of my reverence, something which I cannot simply master or own or treat as an object like other objects. For the Christian, and for most religious believers, that is firmly rooted in the notion that the other, the human other, is already related – and so outside of my power and my control.
I think we can push this further and say that when we claim the right to be respected – when we claim our “human rights,” in fact – we are not just asserting that somewhere in us there is something making imperative demands. We are trying to affirm a proper place in relation with others. We are trying to affirm that we are embedded in relationship. I am and have value because I am seen by and engaged with love – ideally, the love we experience humanly and socially, but beyond and behind that always and unconditionally the love of God. And the service of others’ rights or dignity is simply the search to echo this permanent attitude of love, attention, respect, which the creator gives to what is made.