Overcoming Rankism: Creating a Dignitarian Culture


In this issue:

Newsbriefs: Celebrating Five Years of Monthly Newsletters
Some Readers Comments
July Editorial: Overcoming Rankism: Creating a Dignitarian Culture
Newsbriefs: Five Companies Honored at San Francisco Conference
Forwarding Newsletter is Encouraged
Next Month: Ending Fundamentalism, Beginning Direct Knowing

Celebrating Five Years of Monthly Newsletters:

Beginning as a monthly “e-newsletter” called Aha!, John started writing this newsletter in July of 1998 – initially as a way of sharing ideas with readers of his books, professional colleagues, and people who attended his talks around the world.

Some Readers’ Comments:

“Congratulations on your 5th anniversary. So glad that I have been able to be part of your global network of people who are committed to ensuring a better future. I look forward to five more years.” – Rebecca Hall, Coordinator Economic Development, Gold Coast City, Australia

“Happy birthday, Better Future News! You are a valued friend who I esteem for the ways in which you challenge me to expand my awareness of vital contemporary issues.”
– Robert Rabbin, author & cofounder of Global Truth Publishing

“John Renesch’s work, especially Better Future News, should be on the reading list of every CEO who envisions a better future and dares to create a socially conscious organization.” – Bill Louden – CEO, Integra M&A Consulting; founder GEnie


One of the most insidious causes of human pain and suffering is what author Robert Fuller calls “rankism” – the abuse of rank between the “somebodies” of the world and the “nobodies” who go disrespected and looked down upon.

Fuller’s new book – Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank – does a masterful job of shining light on what may well be the grand-daddy of all “ism’s” – the container of all attitudes with which people put one another down. Racism, sexism, ageism and all the other ways we have managed to discriminate and put ourselves above others who are different might all be rooted in this term which Fuller has coined in his new book published by New Society Publishers. He writes, “the familiar ‘isms’ are but the tip of the iceberg. Below the waterline lies an enormous body of abuse of power sanctioned by both actual and presumed differences in rank. Until rankism is exposed and deprived of legitimacy, we will continue to be plagued by all the otherwise-named forms of discrimination that derive their very lifeblood from it.”

The genesis of this idea grew out of Fuller’s experience after he left his position as president of Oberlin College when he found himself being treated as a relative “nobody” compared to how he had been previously respected. Indignity, disrespect and humiliation were some of the qualities he felt he might now share with someone lacking the protection of title or status on the power side of the somebody-nobody divide.

He points out that we all – sooner or later – get treated like a nobody so we all know what it is like: the board chairman treated rudely by a waiter in a restaurant; a famous actor who isn’t recognized by a flight attendant; an industry guru who leaves the convention where he or she gave a keynote address and finds himself/herself to be “just another person.” Unlike being a minority in a racist society, or a woman in a sexist one, everyone knows what it is like to be treated like a nobody at some time in their lives.

Fuller sees rankism at the core of many of our social problems. “Rankism erodes the will to learn, distorts personal relationships, taxes economic productivity, and stokes ethnic hatred. It is the cause of dysfunctionality, and sometimes even violence, in families, schools, and the workplace. Like racism and sexism, rankism must be named and identified and then negotiated out of all our social institutions.”

Rank alone is not the problem, any more than racial or gender differences are. Problems arise when these differences are used as a basis for implying that one’s rank or gender or race is better than the other person or group – as “an excuse to abuse, humiliate, exploit, and subjugate.”

One cannot change one’s race, age or gender but one can change one’s attitude about rank – and recognize how this source of social injustice creates a society devoid of common dignity. Fuller calls for a “dignitarian culture” in which all human beings are respected, regardless of their rank. “Attacking the familiar ‘isms,’ one at a time, is like lopping heads off the Hydra of discrimination and oppression; going after rankism aims to drive a stake through Hydra’s heart.”

Like our Declaration of Independence so artfully envisions, we can have a world whereby everyone is equally deserving of respect and being treated with dignity, regardless of rank. Rank is necessary to get things done. Hierarchy is useful when it comes to functioning as organizations. But using one’s rank or position or title as a basis for thinking of oneself as inherently better than another person is where it goes bad and infects our organizations, our communities, our nation and the world.

Next Month’s Editorial: Ending Fundamentalism, Beginning Direct Knowing


Five Companies Honored at San Francisco Conference

Five companies received the 2003 Willis Harman Spirit at Work Awards at the Spirit in Business conference recently held in San Francisco; they are The Times of India (India), Memorial Hermann Healthcare System (U.S.), Sounds True (U.S.), SREI International Financial Limited (India), and Windesheim University of Professional Education (The Netherlands). The awards are sponsored each year by the Association for Spirit at Work, Spirit in Business, and the World Business Academy.

Forwarding This Newsletter is Encouraged


About John Renesch

Better Future NEWS is prepared monthly by John Renesch, a San Francisco-based writer, business futurist, and keynote speaker.

His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing. For a list of all the KEYNOTE TOPICS John offers, go to Talks.

Join ASAW Today!

Come Join Us! The Association of Spirit at Work is a membership organization with a vision to make a difference in the world by expanding the role of businesses, groups and organizations in transforming society. Memberships start at $39/year for students; John serves on the Association’s Board of Directors; see for details and how to join.

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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