School bullying. Corporate corruption. Sexual harassment. Domestic violence. Elder abuse. The invisible poor. Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Ageism. Classism. Ableism.

What do these problems have in common? They’re all examples of a more fundamental problem, one that we, as a society, have yet to address: rankism.

Rankism is the exploitation or humiliation of those with less power or lower status. Simply put, rankism occurs when the somebodies of the world use the power of their rank to take advantage over those they see as nobodies. Rankism is the root cause of a wide variety of dominating behaviors. As the general cause of indignity, rankism is no more defensible than the now-familiar indignities of racism or sexism.

Eliminating rankism doesn’t mean eliminating rank any more than getting rid of racism means getting rid of race. Rank can be a useful organizational tool that, used properly, helps us achieve group goals. It is the abuse of rank that cries out for our attention.

In rankist environments, creativity is stifled, students can’t learn, workers are disloyal, health is compromised, families suffer dysfunction, and victims want revenge.

How do you change something that’s so pervasive and that has for so long gone unnamed? With dignity. Treating people with dignity, no matter where they fall on the corporate, social, familial, or political ladder, is the key to overcoming rankism in all its manifestations. Dignity is the antidote.

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