Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Books that Changed My Life: Sombodies and Nobodies

In the next few days and weeks, I plan to comment on books that have changed my life. When featured recently on www.fromlefttowrite.com, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire about books. It was a great reminder of books that have made a significant impact on who I am.

I begin with a relatively recent experience. Somebodies and Nobodies by Robert W. Fuller takes a naked look at the role of rank in all our lives. We have fought the abuse of race, religion, sexual orientation and gender but the last stand in the battle against the “ism” is the abuse of rank. We all feel it when someone of greater wealth, origin or superior title attempts or successfully pulls rank over us. Perhaps we feel it less when we are the one pulling our superior rank over another. Perhaps you have cringed when you felt the inferior or the superior position or both! Rankism sullies relationships between persons, nations, the governed and the governors and can be avoided. Fuller helps us understand that equal dignity for all persons, regardless of one’s role in society, begats peace and a livable social order.

Fuller maintains that low rank signifies weakness, vulnerability and lack of power and offers us a view of the world that gives dignity to everyone. Sounds utopian; but could we do it, if we wanted to?

This book reminded me of an incident in my childhood that served as seedbed for some of my own struggle with rankism.
Even children experience rankism

On a sweltering July day in Evansville, Indiana, 1954, the children of welfare families were loaded on to buses and taken to Yabrody Park. This venue, a pitiful excuse for an amusement park, might well have been Disney World for us.  My brother Bill was nine; I was seven.  Before we got off the bus we were told everything in the park would be free today.  We could ride the rides as often as we liked, play the games; anything we wanted to do.
Bill and I darted off to have some fun.  We were having a great time, escaping our every day realities and soon got thirsty.  We walked over to the little wooden shack concession stand and Bill ordered two cokes.  The lady handed them to us; I took a sip of mine and then she said, "That will be fifty cents."  Bill and I looked at each other dismayed. He found his voice first and said, "We don't have any money.  We were told everything in the park is free for us today."  The lady looked at us with disgust and said, "Go ahead and keep them.  Your sister has already drunk out of hers. You welfare kids are all alike. You think everything ought to be given to you!" The shame, humiliation and degradation I felt at that moment remains so strong I can feel it today though I am an accomplished, financially secure adult.

Let's strive to think before we participate in rankism. Where have you experienced rankism in your own life?

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