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Chapter Six: Talking about Rankism

Fuller, Robert W. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

One of the best ways to end rankism is to simply start talking about it. Until now, the subject of rankism has been taboo, not discussable in polite company. It’s not always comfortable to say “You know, we might be excluding others here, depriving them of an opportunity to be heard. Let’s see if we can listen to some other voices, too.” Or, “Hey guys, do you think we’re giving enough people a chance at this job? How about letting more people in on the action?”

People don’t typically enjoy confronting their own rankism. Those in positions of power may not want to “rock the boat” with their friends or colleagues, and when those of lower rank speak up, they may risk retaliation. The unfortunate truth is that although we may not mind indulging in rankism, when our rankism is exposed, we mind. So we just don’t talk about it.

Most of us, deep down, recognize that insulting another’s dignity is morally objectionable. So when we are found to be engaging in the behavior, we feel uncomfortable. We may feel embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed. We may respond in anger toward the person or circumstance that exposed our rankism, even as we justify our actions.

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Resource a: Creating Your Own Plan for Change

Fuller, Robert W. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

As an individual, you can help create a world without rankism, whether you choose to focus on creating a culture of dignity at home, school, work, within a social group or recreational activity, your house of worship, or your local or global community. Here are some ideas to help you create your own plan of action.

When targeting or preventing rankism, it can be useful to first change our own ways of thinking about rank. One example of how to do this is to reconceptualize rank as role, instead of thinking of it as a hierarchy in which people of high rank have greater power than others and therefore have more status and are more “important.” Looking at rank as role, you can think of everyone as characters in a play.

Each has been cast in a role. Some roles have wider spheres of responsibility than others; some have greater decision-making authority; some wield greater power; some appear to have higher status. But all roles are needed—the high-ranking as well as the low. Without every single role the play would not be complete.

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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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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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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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