RANK: a tool to deal with authority

Building on the previous posts Rankwhere I talked about hierarchy. I will elaborate more on this and on the question how to deal with authority in a ‘healthy way’, using it for the common good. The way I see it, as I mentioned before, not hierarchy itself, but its unawareness is what makes it ‘problematic’. When the role of power and hierarchy has become omnipresent, like a fish that doesn’t realize it is swimming in water, it is  difficult to see clearly how deeply rooted it is. In order to become aware of this game, a tool is needed.

Rank is one of these tools that  opens our eyes to understand hierarchy and authority in group dynamics and helps us use it constructively. When I stayed in Lakabe, a very nice and charming community in Spain, I found some of the answers related to the topic of ´how to deal with hierarchy´. I got in contact with ‘group facilitation’ and the concept of “Rank” which is developed by Arnold Mindell. Rank refers to the amount of power a person has relative to others. It  can be understood as the sum of power and privileges someone has in a certain social context. Differences in Rank affects someone’s self confidence and self worth amongst others.

Here are some examples of different types of rank:

  • Social Rank is generally unearned, and its relative powers and privileges are supported by social norms. They cover areas such as gender, class, ethnicity, colour, wealth, nationality and education.
  • Contextual Rank arises in a particular situation and is specific to an individual’s position in that situation. Someone’s high social rank may not apply in a particular social situation such as the workplace.
  • Psychological/Spiritual Rank is the power that you gain from life experiences, particularly overcoming and surviving difficult and challenging situations and transforming the pain into a strength; or it may come from a feeling of connection to a higher power or to nature/the environment, etc.

Knowing these different types of Rank, we can start thinking of privileges we have and how our power relates to those of other in our different daily situations.

This concept of Rank does definitely not mean that some people are ‘worth more’ than others, but it tries to bring hidden hierarchies into the light. The point is not to eliminate Rank but to highlight these unwritten ‘conventions’ so that these privileges and power can be used for the benefit of the group. As mentioned in the previous posts, when unaware of having a higher Rank and thereby having some kind of authority and power over others, this power can easily oppress people. In order to be conscious of Rank we need to remember how privileged we are. When unconscious of Rank, we marginalize the pain and troubles of others, we might for example think that we live in a classless society but this is a false perception, blinded by our own Rank and the privileges we take for granted . The thing is that we are very blind to our own rank/privileges, but see very easily the ones we are lacking. So let’s change this by becoming aware of our privileges, and start using it for creating more balanced and harmonious relationships.

Personally I prefer horizontal structures because the intention to take care of each other is clearly present. But it is important to note that when we are unconscious of Rank, horizontal structures can be oppressive as well. In an implicit way, power and dominance will be taken up by certain personalities which tend to be more active, determined and pushy. When there is no clear structure, this dominance is more invisible and makes it difficult to defend oneself against this form of oppression.

So to summarize what I took from this, is that not hierarchy nor authority in itself are the problem but that the intention behind it is crucial. If there is an intention to take care of the others, AND there is awareness about Rank, it can create an empowering scene where the ‘little ones’ are giving a safe space to express, grow and unfold themselves. But it takes a hell of awareness to not fall into the trap of letting your own ego take the lead and start using other people for your own intentions. The good thing is that if more people are aware about Rank, they can keep others accountable when suffering from the abuse of Rank.

If you want to go deeper into this topic, check out this video. A funny way of explaining Rank: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKG4EUD2z5E

Further questions can help to deepen the topic and become more aware of our Rank:

  • Remember a recent situation when you felt uncomfortable/small/intimidated by someone. What was the relationship of the different Ranks?
  • What are my privileges? What is my social/contextual/psychological/spiritual Rank
  • Where am I in authority? How can I use my Rank there to benefit the others?

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