In January we aired an interview with Sam Daley-Harris, founder of Results, an international grassroots citizen’s lobby committed to healing the break between people and government and creating a political win. Our dialogue included such subjects as how we might move beyond feelings of helplessness and resignation regarding the deep polarization manifesting in the current political climate.
A woman from India, Emily Curtis, heard this program and was inspired to write to Sam and he forwarded her letter to me. Because Emily shared in her email to Sam thoughts about dignity, empowerment, and making value-based decisions, I felt compelled to respond and to put her in touch with Robert Fuller, another recent guest on New Dimensions. She stated, “I believe this is what it will take for humanity to gracefully evolve to a restorer species – a collaborative species.”
I suggested to her to become familiar with Robert Fuller who is a physicist by training and former president of Oberlin College. Among his enormous contributions to the public dialogue he has identified rankism – the abuse of rank or of power, and how this abuse of power underlies all the “isms,” e.g. racism, sexism, and homophobia. He says that treating others as invisible, as “nobodies,” is insulting someone’s dignity, and that’s rankism. We’ve made great strides in the last couple of centuries as we move beyond the most familiar “isms” – racism, sexism, ageism. But rankism is at the root of all the many ways we threaten the dignity of others, and it continues to undermine the happiness and productivity of people everywhere. Robert Fuller sees overcoming rankism as the next great step in our cultural evolution and believes we’re at the threshold of making dignity for all a fundamental tenet of our personal relationships, our business ethics, even our government. He has become a recognized leader of the dignity movement to overcome rankism and is the author of many books including Dignity for All: How to Create a World without Rankism.
Her response, which I have permission to share, follows:
Dear Justine Willis Toms,
I’m writing for a couple reasons.
Firstly, I want to thank you. I’ve been listening to New Dimensions for over a decade. I just don’t want another day of my life to pass before I say thank you. The show has been a faithful companion, a touch stone, a source of inspiration, context, and meaning – more than that, it’s given me community, introducing me to mentors, teachers and friends – it’s given me a sense of belonging in the world. This, as you know, means everything.
Words cannot hold the weight of time, or fill the space of gratitude and meaning that I feel for this…
Secondly, I wrote to a guest of yours, Sam Daley-Harris, after listening to your interview. He told me that he shared my email with you, and you forwarded the Robert Fuller talk. It’s magical and it feels so right, and I want to thank you so much for taking the time to connect those dots with something so concretely meant for me that has been gifted through the ethers by you, someone I admire and respect so much. I intend to reach out to Robert Fuller. His dignity movement has given the title to the spiritual ideals I speak of “mainstreaming.” It fits exactly with my desire to study empowerment and is inspiring – what an incredible gift!!!
Just as an anecdote, you may recall, I live in India. You probably also know that society is stratified here. The extent of which is often incomprehensible to people of Western culture as it was to me before I moved here. For example, yesterday, walking down the street in Panjim, the capital city of Goa, a man of a visibly low class (where class/caste is almost like a “badge” people wear, it is visible, and its implications are adhered to), he saw my friend and I approaching, and quite naturally and politely stopped to let us squeeze through a narrow opening, when easily he could have kept going – making us wait. This is quite rare in a country where space is scarce, and the reaction of most people is to covet, and claim it as fervently as possible. I looked at him and heartily said “thank you” and as we whisked by he shyly and nondescriptly said “welcome.”
I see over and over again that when I treat people with dignity they respond humanely. He treated me with dignity and politeness, elevating that whole encounter, and what a beautiful dream to dream.
I truly believe dignity is a human right. As Robert Fuller discussed, naming it is crucial – just as naming racism and sexism was crucial to those movements. This movement is taking hold, and has the power to elevate us and our myriad connections with the natural world – I am excited to count myself in service to it.
Finally, your life’s work is so incredibly profound, valuable, and meaningful to me and I know so many others.
Thank you for being you.
I was moved by what might seem like a small thing in America, but by Indian standards was a shift in the norm. In this small exchange Emily was honoring this man’s gift, and I responded to her with the following:
Thank you so much Emily for sharing your experience of living in India. I applaud you for all the work you are doing. Please know that your contribution to a better more equitable world for all is no small thing. I was deeply touched by your description of passing a man in a narrow passageway and exchanging polite acknowledgements of one another. I feel confident that each act such as this reverberates throughout the cosmos and adds to the awakening of consciousness. All the heavens are celebrating with you.
– Justine Willis Toms