A Perspective on Hierarchies

Feb 6, 2010 | | 2 comments

Two seemingly unrelated stories stirred something deep in me… Warning: movie spoiler ahead.

puzzle-piecesStory 1: I was talking to a friend this morning.  Incidentally this friend is a few years younger than I.  In the near future, we will be spending more time together, and we were discussing how we were each looking forward to that time.  He said he was looking forward to all the things he would learn from me in our time together. I replied that I predicted there would be a lot of mutual learning.  He responded that he wasn’t sure what he could teach me.  Hmmm…

Story 2: Last night, I watched the movie Instinct about a man who lived among apes and then became a murderer.  It is a classic storyline of an old guy teaching a somewhat arrogant, self-assured, young guy stuff about life.  The teacher has the reigns of power.  He is always in control, in charge and invincible.  In the end, they young guy learns lessons about himself that the teacher somehow knew how to pull out of him.  It is only at the very end that we learn (almost as an afterthough) that the teacher has also learned from the student.  In the movies, the older guys always teach the younger guys things and the younger guys either have (or learn to have) total respect and reverence for their teachers.  The teachers always have the upper hand.

When I was a youngster, I learned those rules well.  In the heirarchy of relationships, my teachers are above me.  They are all-knowing and unquestionable.  It is my job to learn what the teacher knows.  Period.  The teachers have already been through what I have been through, so there is nothing I can teach them. One day, I will be the teacher. Until then, I am the student. I looked forward to the day when I could be the older guy teaching the younger ones about life.  Then, I would get the respect that comes from being the sagacious teacher and leader.

I find myself at that point of transition.  Although I don’t see myself as an “old guy” yet, I find that there are more younger people in my life than older people.  I am beginning to see things from the other perspective.  I see that the old guy in the movies is hiding behind the hierarchical relationship.  The old guy still has a lot of stuff to work through and learn.  In fact, the whole hierarchy thing is bullshit (sorry mom, it was the right word this time).  Maybe there is a good purpose behind hierarchies, but they do not promote the honoring of individuals and do not contribute to building strong relationships.

Now that I have “paid my dues” and “earned the right” to be the “sagacious teacher”, rather than enjoying the role, I find myself wanting to destroy the hierarchical nature of the whole shebang. The society that we live in produces and encourages these kinds of hierarchies.  Most are unaware of them, but feel a “need” to have them to be able to function. I think they are dishonoring and that we mostly hide behind them.

In areas where I wield the power, I want to use it to empower others.  Rather than spouting my own “wisdom” all the time, I want to learn from the perspectives of others.  I want to be an encourager and a builder of people… and I want to help normalize those kinds of relationships… relationships that honor and respect others.  Not because we have earned it somehow, but because we are breathing the same air.  I want to listen to stories and dreams; stories that tell how we got here and dreams of where we want to go.

I keep thinking about the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. Each person brings a new perspective and each perspective has value. To my friend, I say, “I hope you will learn from me.  I hope that some of the things I have learned through the years will help you in your journey.  I look forward to sharing my stories and dreams with you.  I also look forward to the stories and dreams you will share with me… and what I will learn from you.

Posted in: life

2 Responses

  1. I see hierarchy as a project tool. Hierarchy is misused as a tool when it is used by the few for the few. Hierarchy is a management tool but it is not the only way to manage. Sometimes a hierarchy is upended as in Iraq, Afghanistan or Russia and what is left is chaos. The hierarchal governmental system of the United States is the best in the world because it creates a space for freedom. It is interesting that within that space businesses and organizations set up autocratic and repressive corporations and institutions, however, that’s changing. We will always need hierarchies but ones that provide expression not repression.

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