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Chapter Nine: Standing up to Rankism

Fuller, Robert W. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Once you have identified a rankist attitude or behavior, you will need to assess your options for responding. Could you, for example, talk to the people involved, discuss the matter with a higher-ranking individual, or write a letter to a local newspaper? The following approaches may help you select from the many available choices. [A list of suggested resources is available at www.dignityforall.org.]

Interpersonal

Approaches used in other disciplines, such as Marshall Rosenberg’s non-violent communication training or physicist David Bohm’s pioneering work on Deep Dialogue, can provide ideas, skills, and strategies for responding effectively to rankism, using an interpersonal approach. The “shalom building” process taught by psychologist and Protestant minister John Beck is usable in faith communities seeking to create a dignitarian environment, and can be adapted for secular contexts; diversity training can increase understanding and respect for others while helping individuals to develop communication and interpersonal skills; programs that raise awareness about microinequities and teach strategies for responding to cumulative slights to dignity can provide practical guidance about confronting rankism. Any process that emphasizes respect and dignity for all, while offering communication tools that foster careful listening and understanding, may be useful when approaching people you feel have violated your or others’ dignity.

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Resource d: How to Create a Culture of Dignity

Fuller, Robert W. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

(Excerpted and adapted from All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity by Robert W. Fuller, Berrett-Koehler: San Francisco, 2006.)

It’s impossible to know exactly what a particular dignitarian institution will look like in advance, because to qualify as dignitarian its design must take into account the views of those the institution will serve. In a dignitarian organization, everyone involved has a voice and everyone’s views have some political weight. The most important element in creating a dignitarian organization is to design a process that is collaborative and involves all stakeholders. (Leaders often design programs without involving the people they serve, and that’s one reason their ideas so often fall flat. Not only is such an approach ineffective, it is also rankist, because it assumes that the leaders necessarily know what would be best for an organization and the people it is meant to serve.)

Therefore, a template can only suggest an approach and basic framework for transforming an organization into a dignitarian one.

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Resource b: Ten Ways to Foster Dignitarian Governance

Fuller, Robert W. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

By Brian J. Gerloff

It’s not uncommon for governing boards to engage in rankism, often unintentionally. For example, board members may assume they have superior knowledge and therefore disregard the views of their constituency. Within the board itself, members may assume the majority is wiser than the minority. Rankism can also occur in the ranks of the organization if board members fail to hold administrators to dignitarian standards of behavior. Some ways boards can reduce rankism in their organization include:

1. Remember that everyone on the board has equal legitimacy.

This means that you must listen to all the varying perspectives on a board as you make decisions. Of course you should look for common ground when possible, but it also means that sometimes you will not have unanimous votes. You won’t always have consensus decisions if you are genuinely allowing everyone’s voice to be heard and considered.

2. Share information equally with all board members.

When information is provided to one member of the board, make it standard practice to provide it to all, e.g., by forwarding informational e-mails to everyone and by copying all members of a committee with all correspondence. This promotes a culture of equality on the board and prevents the formation of cliques.

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Chapter Two: Naming the Problem

Fuller, Robert W. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

“At the core of every humiliation and indignity is a mental error, not just a habit… Nothing can be done until it is noticed, until it is named. Naming creates distinctions, distinctions create the capacity to change. Naming rankism transforms everything.”

—Paul Hawken, author of Natural Capitalism

Humans have been violating others’ dignity for millennia. We have raped and pillaged, trafficked in slavery, and otherwise abused our fellow creatures. Colonialism; segregation; apartheid; torture; ethnic cleansing; corporate corruption; monopolistic pricing; sexual harassment; discrimination based on race, gender, age, appearance… The list of ways we have violated the dignity of members of our own and other species goes on and on.

So why would we think we can stop it now?

The reasons are simple:

In 1963, Betty Friedan characterized the plight of women as “the problem that has no name.” Within a few years, the problem had acquired one: sexism. Only after naming the source of gender inequality did the movement to disallow gender-based discrimination grab hold of the collective consciousness. Once named, the problem was identifiable, visible, discussable—and actionable. And, ultimately, it became preventable.

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Chapter Eight: Detecting Warning Signs of Rankism

Fuller, Robert W. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Some rankist behaviors are so prevalent that they deserve special mention as signs to watch out for when building a culture of dignity. The following practices and behaviors are often used— knowingly or unknowingly—to put or keep others down.

Both secrecy and silencing are commonly used by people in power to maintain the rights and privileges associated with their rank. Dictators and despots, prime ministers and presidents, lay and clerical religious leaders, school administrators, CEOs and mid-level managers—all these and many others may use secrecy about their own activities and silencing of dissenting voices to maintain power or control. They may or may not be conscious of doing it.

Secrecy keeps rankism invisible

When leaders make decisions in secret, take actions in secret, or hide the truth about events that should not be secret, others are unable to examine the leaders’ actions to determine whether they are fair and just and honor everyone’s dignity. The Federal Open Meetings Laws offer one kind of safeguard against the rankism that secrecy breeds. The statutes specify the conditions under which certain agencies and committees of the government, including a public school district’s governing body, may meet to discuss business. The laws include a requirement that business be transacted only at meetings which members of the public and press are permitted to attend. It also includes regulations about the percentage of members required to be in attendance for discussion of board business. If more organizations were to follow the Open Meetings model, there would be fewer opportunities for them to fall into the patterns of secrecy that foster rankism.

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