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Hierarchies and Pecking Orders: Wake Up and Break Out

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Even the pope is doing it -- challenging the old hierarchical ways. We are born into a world of hierarchy. In every couple, family unit, group of friends, workplace, society, there's a pecking order. And whether we think about it or not, we know our place, and many of us expend a lot of energy trying to maintain or change that place.

Think about your own life, starting with childhood. Who was on top and in what way? How did other people stack up? What qualities gave people power in your family? How did family members compete for resources? Did you try to be on top, did you try to be favored by whoever was on top, did you hide out at the bottom in order to not feel responsible, or did you give up and look outside the family for a different hierarchy, one where you could create a safe place for yourself, where you felt your needs could be met?

Whether or not we realize it, we still live in hierarchies today, if only in our own minds. In your mind, is the hierarchy based on being more spiritual, or financially successful, or beautiful, or talented, or sweet, or closer to God? Why are those criteria so important? Who is above whom, and what's the payoff for each position? How do you feel about the place you have? What are you willing to pay to establish or keep that place?

Hierarchies are apparent from infancy. From birth, there are these god-like creatures that do or do not provide for my needs. How do I get them to do so? Haven't I have already identified the powers that be in the hierarchy, and am I not already creating strategies to manipulate them? Hasn't that pattern become part of me? Personally, in my family, it was Mom who was on top, who was the ultimate decision-maker in the family. I had to be her favorite to get my needs met. And so later in life, I wanted to be the teacher's pet, the boss's most valuable employee, God's very own ambassador.

Living in that hierarchy kept me locked into a constant striving and competition with others, even though the price of competition is high. I couldn't appreciate others fully, relax into our Oneness, be receptive or work truly co-creatively. And the ego fears releasing hierarchy. When I try to break out, it starts screaming that my survival is at stake. I'm not special, and so I won't get my needs met.

I'm tired of competing with others. I want to live in the Oneness. But how easy is that? Just saying it means nothing. Something inside us has to change in order for us to let hierarchy go. And that change starts with self-love and the realization that hierarchy is not only unnecessary, it's damaging to the body, mind and spirit.

How does it damage the body? If I'm striving to be on top, I'll trash my body for my ambitions. If I'm on the bottom or in between, I'll let myself be used by others, either because I don't give myself the right to protest or because I don't have the power to stop the abuse. How does hierarchy damage the mind? I limit myself to the thoughts that are appropriate for a person of my station. If I'm on top, I'll waste mental energy trying to figure out how to stay there, and I'll strain to figure things out myself, rather than show my reliance on others. If I'm on the bottom, I may never be given the opportunities to develop my mind, or my ideas might be disregarded because of my position. How does it damage the spirit? In hierarchy, there's no freedom for anyone. We are not playing roles. The roles are playing us.

If we are willing to admit that we see ourselves in hierarchical positions with just about everyone, if we recognize that hierarchy is institutionalized in our world, if we recognize that it's a damaging perspective, is there anything we can do about it? Absolutely.

We start with our own minds. We recognize the damage of co-creating a universe where competition is rife, and we try to take contrary action. If we tend to be top dog, we ask ourselves how we can support each being with whom we come into contact, and we disclose our weaknesses and ask for support. If we tend to be at the bottom, we surrender the right to bitch about others and their power, and we bring what we have to every conversation and every moment. We recognize that fighting against other people's power reinforces hierarchy, instead of overturning it, because it implies that they are on top and need to be fought; whereas fighting for something eliminates the hierarchy itself. In fact, wherever we see ourselves in hierarchy, we stop trying to switch out our position, which only preserves the hierarchy while we're trying to benefit ourselves.

In a way, overcoming hierarchy is simple. We no longer believe in its existence. We treat everyone as equal. And we make whatever contribution we can to the world in which we live. Is it really that simple? In a way, yes. In a way, no. Because it's difficult to give up a place of pretend privilege, when we are afraid that we will lose resources we think we need. And it's challenging to stop fighting those on top, when the fight has given us an identity in the world. And it's scary to give up being in the middle, where we can hide from responsibility, avoid being targeted by those "beneath" us, and generally feel safe.

Each one of us has a contribution to make to our world, and we don't need hierarchies to make that contribution or to allow others to make theirs. There may be people we respect because of their wisdom, people we admire for their talents or strength, and so on. And that is natural and useful. But none of this requires us to create or maintain hierarchy. We don't have to listen to someone because other people put them on a pedestal, or because of their title or role in society. We don't have to dominate those who lack our gifts or personal power, and we don't have to worship anyone as a god and then tear them down.

Instead we can be real, listen to what makes sense, appreciate that which is valuable and stop judging, measuring and comparing everyone to everyone, seeking an external guideline that tells us who to listen to, what to despise and what to do.

It takes a whole lot of healing to be relaxed into the reality of who we are every day, without a set place, without the security of the known. But it's worth it. If we want to live in a mutually supportive, co-creative world, we need to not turn our hierarchies upside down, letting the bottom become the top. We need to dissolve hierarchy altogether and become a universe of peers, who may not necessarily be "equal," but each of whom brings the totality of what they have to every situation and moment in our lives.

Beth will be talking about hierarchies with internationally-known author Kingsley Dennis on her internet radio show, InsideOut. Tune in live Tuesday, August 20, 3 pm Pacific time, 6 pm Eastern, and offer your comments or questions. Or listen to the recorded version anytime after the show. Beth Green is the author of 5 books, founder of The Stream Center for The New Spirituality, and co-leader of Consciousness Boot Camp. To meet Beth, come to The Stream spiritual service the first Sunday of every month live or via the internet (go to The Stream), or check out Beth's personal website, where you'll learn of her many activities, books and programs.

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