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Resource c: Stories of Dignity Regained

Fuller, Robert W. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

To help build a dignitarian world, International Training Associates is implementing Kindness Campaigns in schools and communities throughout the United States. These help young people recognize rankism and its effects on themselves and others. Through creative play, the arts, and deep conversation, participants learn to look beyond labels and to treat each other with dignity.

Story 1: During one of our Middle School Respect Days, our attention was drawn to a quiet, morose, overweight eighth-grade boy who in his invisibility was obviously at the lower end of the social hierarchy. He had difficulty participating in the activities until we were writing a group poem in which each student wrote a line. After all his peers had shared, this young man found his voice and quietly stood up and read “In a kind world, girls would like me.” There was an audible gasp and many students cried as they were touched by his naked honesty and pain. Although they had gone to school together since kindergarten, this was the first time many truly saw his humanity. This was the beginning of a transformation where others began to treat him with dignity and he himself began to find his voice and see himself as worthwhile.

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Chapter Seven: Identifying and Targeting Rankism

Fuller, Robert W. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

“Rankism is far more encompassing than racism, sexism, or ageism. Rankism must be our prime target from now on.”

—Studs Terkel, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Working and The Good War

Once we can talk about rankism, we can start to target it specifically, stopping it wherever we find it. To do that, we need to first identify rankism in our own attitudes and behaviors, as well as in others’.

Rankism can be harder to identify in yourself than in other people, but it is also easier to correct. Hard as it may be to change yourself, it is usually easier to change your own attitudes and behaviors than it is to persuade, convince, or force others to change theirs. For this reason, it can be helpful to address your own and others’ rankism simultaneously. Here is a simple method we find useful:

“How easily we put down those we see as subordinate in title or wealth or origin; how silently we cringe at another’s assumption of superiority. I saw myself in some of the examples, and I shuddered.”

—Anthony Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist for The New York Times, commenting on examples of rankism in the book Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank

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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 Eleven: Preventing Rankism

Fuller, Robert W. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

To create a dignitarian world, we need to counteract rankism when it occurs, but we also need to prevent it. This requires a proactive, rather than a reactive, stance and usually involves initiating new processes and procedures, and sometimes training, to help foster a culture of dignity. Below are some overarching principles that can serve as guidelines for thought and behavior when deliberately creating a culture of dignity, followed by some practical ways to begin building a dignitarian world.

Dignity is a basic need. It is necessary for healthy growth and development. Therefore, dignity is not optional. We must accord dignity to all.

Rankism begets rankism. The human tendency is to respond to rankism with rankism. We can stop that cycle by not responding to rankism with more rankism, and by proactively creating a climate of dignity.

Dignity works. Not only is treating others with dignity advisable on moral and humanitarian grounds, but it is practical. Businesses, organizations, and community groups that foster dignity are more productive, peaceful, and resilient than those that allow rankist behavior.

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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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