The rising up of nobodies

By  Shannon Lee Mannion, Catholic Register Special
  • November 3, 2006
 Robert Fuller, in his new book All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies and the Politics of Dignity, says that our lever against rankism is the will to dignity. The sentence structure may be awkward, but readers know right away he is saying that will is the fulcrum and dignity the force which can eliminate abuse, discrimination or exploitation based on rank.

Fuller's last book was Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank in 2003. In this book he further elaborates on his "Nobody Manifesto," in which he defines his central concepts — namely, dignity, rankism and dignitarian.

"Dignity is innate, non-negotiable and inviolate. No person's dignity is any less worthy of respect, any less sacred than anyone else's.... Rankism is an indefensible abridgment of the dignity of nobodies and a stain on the honour of somebodies.... Nobodies of the world, unite! We have nothing to lose but our shame," writes Fuller.

This rallying cry depends on what Fuller calls the dignitarian principle.  "Everyone's success is dependent on many other's contributions, so everyone is obligated to contribute to the starting point of others."

All Rise goes into greater depth on how people can combat rankism wherever it may appear, be it in their interpersonal relationships, in the workplace, in educational institutions or in their places of worship.

Fuller admits traditions are tenacious and have their downsides. Will doctors, professors or politicians ever view the little people with respect? It is difficult when an entire group of people perceive themselves as superior or more deserving than others. If you have been ignored or denied a voice because you are not promoting the status quo, you will understand the profound feeling of rejection he refers to as "the heavy hand of custom."                                                                      

The title, All Rise, of course, is a play on words. Most of us are familiar with rising to our feet in a courtroom upon the entrance of a judge. Judges, of course, in their impressive robes and sober mien are the epitome of dignity. Again, in many religious services and ceremonies, there is the invocation to rise at various times, a sign of reverence and respect.

But as people rise to their feet, they stand tall. They rise up. 

Out of a respect for others comes self-respect and pride, for it is when members of a  hierarchy  opt for a flat, decentralized organization that it is inevitable that they will treat each other with respect which in turn, fosters respect for all.

In current situations, we see movements threatened with abnegation or absorption. Take the instance of the Evangelical movement being hijacked by the Christian right, or fundamentalists of any stripe trying to establish their credo over others. Fuller resolves these potentially volatile situations by admonishing adherents to stop demonizing dissenters.

In a brilliant, turn-the-other-cheek move, he stipulates, "When non-believers put fundamentalists down as naïve and ignorant, they are taking the first step down the same treacherous path."

Chapter Three, entitled "Models and Dignity," is one of the most important. It sets up the next 10, including the "Afterward." Without an appreciation of models — be they social models, institutional models or simple role models — a reader will not understand how Fuller wants us to structure our schools, hospitals, workplaces and eventually the world.

Fuller is convinced establishing models of justice and good behaviour will quell the inevitability of war. It is here that perhaps his dignitarian precepts are slightly out of sync with reality. Shaking hands and espousing respect may simply be a pretense of fair play and in extreme cases, subterfuge of the worst kind.

At its most fundamental, dignity is, as Fuller insists, non-negotiable. Every individual has inherent worth and is worthy of respect. Fuller reworks the biblical Golden Rule adding his own stamp. He exhorts "Protect the dignity of others as you would your own," adamant that by acknowledging each other's worth, as his penultimate and closing chapters insist, that people will no longer have to pit race against race, worker against boss, student against professor, patient against doctor. Instead, they will already be standing on their own two feet and respected for who they are what they have to say.

This is the bright hope that Fuller holds out for in his dignitarian world, that we will all be firm in our own dignity and that of others.

(Lee Mannion is a freelance writer in Ottawa.)

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