"To create a dignitarian world, we need to counteract rankism when it occurs, but we also need to prevent it. This requires a proactive, rather than a reactive, stance and usually involves initiating new processes and procedures, and sometimes training, to help foster a culture of dignity. Below are some overarching principles that can serve as guidelines for thought and behavior when deliberately creating a culture of dignity, followed by some practical ways to begin building a dignitarian world.

Dignity Principles

"Dignity is a basic need. It is necessary for healthy growth and development. Therefore, dignity is not optional. We must accord dignity to all.

Rankism begets rankism.The human tendency is to respond to rankism with rankism. We can stop that cycle by not responding to rankism with more rankism, and by proactively creating a climate of dignity.

Dignity works. Not only is treating others with dignity advisable on moral and humanitarian grounds, but it is practical. Businesses, organizations, and community groups that foster dignity are more productive, peaceful, and resilient than those that allow rankist behavior.

Always keep others' dignity intact. Protect others' dignity as you would your own — even those who are insulting yours. Many religious and philosophical systems advocate a standard of behavior similar to 'The Golden Rule,' which says, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That's a pretty reliable standard for determining whether what you are about to do is protecting others' dignity as you would your own.

Proactive is more effective than reactive. It is usually more effective to prevent rankism by creating a proactive plan for change, rather than by reacting to rankism when it occurs.

A paternalistic system is inherently rankist, no matter how benevolent it may be. A leadership system that does not allow people to voice their own needs, hopes, and concerns is inherently rankist because it presumes that those in power always know best what is important and necessary to others' lives, even without asking them.

Rankism creates a dysfunctional system. Rankism produces psychological, emotional, and organizational dysfunction and may stimulate a wide range of unhealthy behaviors, such as undue fear, bullying, unproductive gossip, silencing of cautionary or creative voices, cliques, bootlicking, backbiting, undermining, or sabotage. To create a healthier system, eliminate rankism.

To create 'tipping point change,' focus in one area until it 'tips.' The Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell has advised that to effectively create a tipping point, it is best to focus efforts on one relatively small area first — such as a single school, rather than the entire school district; or a single town government, rather than an entire state government — until the desired change reaches a tipping point within that smaller entity; then move to another small entity within the system, rather than trying to get a large system to 'tip' all at once.

Allow everyone a voice — and listen attentively. In a culture of dignity, everyone's voice is important, even essential — not just because it's 'the right thing to do,' but also because it is in everyone's self-interest. When people experience rankism, if they have no effective way to respond they may seek to sabotage the organization or the perpetrators of the rankism. If we are to avoid sabotage and retaliation, we must treat others with dignity. Listening attentively minimizes sabotage.

Teach, learn — and tell others. As you gain experience creating cultures of dignity, you can teach others what you know, even as you seek to learn more. A summary of rankism and its consequences, as well as a list of additional resources, are available at