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Hierarchy, dominance, distress: guise of false civility can take most cruel ways

By Bharat Dogra 

Human beings are the most capable among the millions of life-forms on earth, but unfortunately their numerous capabilities cannot contribute adequately to reducing distress because of some highly undesirable traits among human beings afflicting them to a lesser or greater extent in the course of their known history. When persons of great spiritual strength and deep social concerns emerged to start people’s movements to reduce these undesirable traits, then humanity could progress in a true sense in the areas covered by these movements. However during most other times, as in present times, the undesirable traits have persisted to a large extent in most places, leading to high although avoidable levels of distress. In fact in present times in most societies, even the need for reducing these traits is not given adequate recognition, and in this important sense, there are tendencies of stagnation and regression despite all the obvious advancement of technology or the outward display of grandeur and glitter.
While several undesirable traits can be identified, perhaps the most harmful has been the one to somehow seek one’s own superiority over others, which can be at a personal level as well as at levels of class, caste , religion, gender, color, race, nation etc. A man says to himself –I am, must be superior than others, and must devote my life to achieving and establishing this superiority at various levels. In this quest he inevitably seeks dominance over others at various levels, and when he inter-acts with others it is more on the basis of—I must be the superior, more assertive and powerful partner; my will must prevail, the relationship should be to my advantage, the other(s) must bend to my desires. This trait plays out in many loud as well as subtle ways. This can be pursued under the guise of false civility, or else can even take the most cruel ways, taking the form even of large-scale massacres. Often this trait manifests first in more civil ways, but as various stages of dominance cannot succeed in achieving their narrow objectives in civil ways, these ultimately lead to more violence and cruel ways. I am superior, my caste, faith and race are superior, my class is the ruling class, only we will take the big decisions as only we are capable, we in the name of a nation are destined to conquer or become the dominant regional or world force—these feelings, hidden or articulated to various extents, guide the actions and efforts of many, many people at various levels of society, including those who are very powerful. These being the dominant traits get passed on even to these who are dominated, so that they also are guided by similar values in their own social relations.
In a relationship of dominance of course those are dominated are doomed to experiencing varying levels and kinds of distress, ranging from living a life of stifled yearnings to serious injury and even early death, but what is less frequently realized is that even the persistent seeker of dominance ends up with different kinds of distress as forever seeking more dominance brings its own frustrations and defeats. What is more, at a deeper level, such a seeker of dominance, with all the cruelty that dominance can involve, must inevitably reduce his levels of sensitivity in the process of pursuing dominance, but by reducing or even destroying sensitivity he also renders himself incapable of fulfilling his closest relationships in a caring and considerate way, thereby paving the way for the eroding and destruction of his close relationships in obvious and less obvious ways. Hence relations of dominance can be called ‘burning on both ends’, which is also the title of a small book this writer had written on this subject.
As opposed to this, strong feelings of a belief in the intrinsic and natural equality of all human beings, regardless of class, caste, race, religion, color, gender, region or nation, is a much more rational belief and relationships based on equality and mutual respect and cooperation to enhance the welfare of all are much more rational and conducive to high levels of welfare, peace and justice in world. Hence there should be very creative, significant and continuing efforts at all levels to replace thinking of hierarchy and dominance with thinking of equality and cooperation This can be at the level of families, communities, educational institutions, religious institutions, social and spiritual institutions. Such a continuing and large-scale effort is very important for reducing distress and violence at various levels, and for enhancing peace and justice. Unfortunately this does not get the necessary attention. Even in most schools, which can be a very important place for such a noble and much needed effort, there are complaints by large scale bullying of juniors by seniors (or at other levels) and when those who have suffered much from bullying at lower levels become seniors, they in turn inflict this on their juniors, and so this continues, accepted even by teachers as routine. The shackles of such cycles of dominance should be broken so that the great creativity and potential of relations of equality and cooperation can be realized to create a much better, peaceful and safer world.
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The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Planet in Peril', ‘Man over Machine' and ‘A Day in 2071’

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