The organizational structure of hierarchy, has been around for thousands of years. As a result, it can be pervasive, and it can be hard to distinguish when it is there.
Hierarchy occurs in any group where there is a ranking, which assigns people a level of importance or precedence.
This is different than a group where people might have roles, or have been assigned decision making tasks.
In a hierarchy, the ones that are at the top, have been assigned a greater value than the ones at the bottom. The role of making decisions becomes one of power, rather than a task based job. The voice of anyone lower in the hierarchy is diminished, and they only have the right to voice an opinion, when invited to do so by the one in power.
In a real sense, a hierarchy is an unequal distribution of power. By my personal definition, I believe it occurs any time two people meet, and one is “more important than” the other.
How Human Consciousness Evolves
By expansion of consciousness, I’m talking about the expansion of people’s ideas of what is possible and what could be normal.
I think the concept of hierarchy would have been an evolution in our consciousness.
Certain animals order themselves by pure brute strength. While, the concept of brute strength has never truly disappeared from the ordering of our society, our ways of organizing ourselves grew to encompass new concepts.
To create a structure around which to order society, was probably an improvement on doing whatever you want, to whomever you want, whenever you want.
Even though history was filled with stories of people trying to take power from the ones that had it, when people participated in them, the clear structuring of roles and authority in hierarchies allowed those people to work together in harmonious ways. Rebellious youths, who might otherwise be disruptive, were taught to respect those in authority. The concept of someone having the rights over properties or decisions served to mediate certain disputes.
The ability to order a society based on something other than brute strength, was an expansion of consciousness.
With hierarchies, leadership models grew to include leaders which were chosen by God, such as with kings. Hierarchies came into being where leaders were chosen by the people or by a board of directors. Hierarchies allowed us to create order, and belonging for groups of people, and they allowed those groups to feel a commonality and work towards common goals.
The concept of the hierarchy also expanded who could join the social group.
Democracies expanded power to citizens. Early republics were limited. Roman citizens had rights, but if you weren’t a citizen, you were forever denied access to the group. Eventually, the US came along and allowed for anyone to join or be part of the group, although it started first with white men only. The EU allows citizens from multiple countries to share certain rights.
I believe that the expansion of who was allowed to belong to these groups, shows the continuing of an evolution of consciousness.
At one time in our history, being part of the tribe was probably the only option. When people did conceive of deeper connections between seemingly different people, they were isolated figures like Jesus, or Muhammad. These mystics had followers whom they were attempting to enlighten enough to understand what they were saying.
Our Growing Consciousness of Equality
I believe we are in a time of spiritual growth, where we are moving away from hierarchy.
Not necessarily so that hierarchy will be eliminated from the earth. But rather, one where there is a growing consciousness about equality.
I do not mean an equality consciousness where individuality is washed into indistinct blandness. Instead, it is a time when we begin to realized that different, does not mean unequal. A time where we do not feel the need to imbue one person with all the power or authority.
As I said though, I don’t think the existence of a new consciousness, eliminates the existence of the old ones.
Mafias play by older rules of power. There are still tribes that maintain blood feuds that go on for centuries. There are still people who come along and try to subjugate all the people they can. The consciousness expansion is seen when more people are able to enter into the new way of seeing the world, and to understand that way at deepening levels.
In the past, equality was formulated as one of taking away all distinctions.
The depictions of communism, would show a group where distinctions such as religions or statuses were washed away. You are allowed to come and join the American group, but you are expected to adopt the American culture. Outsiders would have to prove that they are equal by showing they can keep up with the ideals of the culture. This may have shattered some prejudices, but it was not an equality with diversity.
However, because our definition of the groups we belong to has expanded, I think it has allowed some people to begin to see the beauty of different types of people. For those who belonged to groups that had an expanded definition of who could belong, those groups served like a safe space for us, where one could allow new people in and get to know them.
Now, we are at a point where more and more people recognize the importance of any person, from any country, and any race. These are the beginnings for a consciousness of equality.
While, I do believe that you never lose the old ways of consciousness on the planet; I’m not sure that new ways and old ways are compatible.
Once an individual begins to embody a new consciousness, the old one starts to fall away.
In times of stress, that individual may revert to the old and familiar ways. He or she may have a hybrid consciousness, where the enlightened view is in play in one situation, but is not used in another. To truly move into the new consciousness, an individual has to begin letting the old one go. Enlightenment happens when an old consciousness truly falls away, and a person moves into a new consciousness.
In regards to what we are discussing here, its seems to me that equality and hierarchy are incompatible belief systems.
How can you believe that one person is intrinsically more powerful than another, if you believe that the two people are truly equal?
I’m not talking about structuring a group to assign someone decision making authority for the group. Hierarchy has an inner quality of entitlement, that is present in addition to the structure. The CEO is more important than you are. The owners own the company, and in some ways they own you.
My experience of equality, is not an equality of measurement where A equals B.
It goes beyond measurement.
It was a deep sense of another person’s infinite nature. That whether or not they had learned to manifest it fully, that other person contained an infinity that equals my infinity. In the moment of knowing, I knew that the very concept of quantification, the concept of worth did not exist. In fact the word equality might be the wrong one, because it implies a measurement.
Perhaps, the concept of equality does not need to go that far, but it does seem that by its very nature, hierarchy is about inequality. So I think that it may be necessary to begin to let go of the consciousness that goes with hierarchy, if you wish to move to one of equality.
Aspects of Hierarchy Consciousness
I don’t believe that any change should begin with deciding there is something wrong with you and trying to fix it. Rather, I think that all change happens, when you become aware. Hierarchy is not always a bad thing, but I think spiritually, we are all being given an opportunity to begin seeing things in new ways.
If you see hierarchy as any time you sort one or more people into a group above or below another person or group, you can see that it happens all over the place. I also think that it is hard to move away from hierarchy, because it has many attractions:
- In some ways hierarchy is easier. Knowing who is in charge simplifies things. Things get done quicker when you don’t have to negotiate and compromise a decision, based on equal and differing voices.
- We like to have a superstar to admire. The amazing athlete. The beautiful actor or actress. The saintly person who takes care of the poor. An ideal among humans, putting that person on a pedestal is still a hierarchy.
- Sometimes we still want the parent to come in and make it all better. Equality means that no one is super powered enough to take our problems away.
- The all wise teacher. On many levels, people still want to have someone to turn to, the one who has all the answers. The model of student and a master is a pervasive one. For some people, its easier to trust an idealized teacher. Like the parent model, this puts all the power into the one person’s hands.
- We like to know who the bad guys are. Eject those Muslims from our country. Those Mexicans are creating all the crime. The Democrats, or the Republicans, or the Communists are just wrong. This type of hierarchy involves putting your group on the rung above whatever group is bad. It allows you to create a wall of safety around you as you move the dangerous ones outside of the wall.
- If no one is “in charge” of a problem, it can leave one feeling like the weight of the world is on our own shoulders. It can be attractive to turn the problems over to someone else. In some ways, a hierarchy takes the problems out your hands, because they are officially assigned to someone further up the food chain.
- We desire to do something grand in the world. If there are no heights to reach, no ladder to climb, than what does that mean for our dreams of personal glory? (In which ever form that means, star chef, spiritual guru, amazing entrepreneur, best selling author…)
An Integral Change
Moving away from hierarchy, is a true shift in the way we perceive the world. It is not just a change in thinking, but involves an integral shift in how we understand ourselves and others.
It does not mean we do not see an amazing athlete or singer and are not amazed by the beautiful way that they have been able to manifest their gifts. Its more that we should not feel less than that amazing person. We should not idolize them. We have to see our own beauty, as fully as we see another’s.
It means that rather than placing our trust in one person or entity because it feels secure and familiar, we find another type of trust to sustain us. Not a blind trust. A trust that is more complex and multifaceted.
We have to slow down, so that we don’t need an answer so quickly that we can’t allow multiple voices to find a new harmony. If we are given a decision making role, we have to let go of the need for control and the fear of failure if we don’t manage every aspect of the work. We have to redefine our concepts of success and failure. We have to let go of our need to feel safe.
Our very ways of measuring the world must also change. An absolute measure of the worth of an individual, always has an element of ranking.
Money is the easiest, so you see it happen most often in how the wealthy are ranked above the less wealthy. Winning and losing is an absolute measure, where the winning team is honored above the losing one. Yet measurement allows us to challenge ourselves, and can help us strive to expand. So measurement must transform itself from an absolute determination of worth, to a tool for learning and growing.
Seeing the World in a New Way
I’m not really saying that we have to do any or all of things things. Equality consciousness is something that we humans will grow over time.
Hierarchy is not a demon that must be expelled. It has gotten us where we are now. It has allowed our collective conscious to grow to the point where it can now begin to comprehend something new.
However, looking at the world through this lens, you may see things you haven’t noticed before.
In fact, it help you make sense of some of the things that have baffled you.
Many feel on some level that a shift is occurring. The acceptance of gay marriage, non-white people in powerful political roles, and an opening of who is allowed to do what job, is a significant shift in the social ordering of the hierarchy.
This has made some people fearful, and they greatly wish to reestablish the old systems that made them feel safe and secure. Some of the leaders that are chosen at this time, are being selected because they represent the old ways of taking charge, and being in command. For some, the inner turmoil is so great, that the promise of restoring power to its traditional places is potent and attractive.
Some people will always need to belong to groups with clear structures of authority and decision making power.
Certain entities, such as the armed forces, will always require a hierarchical structure because they exist to help reinforce power, and are needed when someone tries to take over in power based ways. Without the proper structure, attempts to create groups that function based on equality are likely to be taken over by power hungry people, or to become disrupted by internal power struggles.
While, I believe it is possible to organize humans along different lines than hierarchy, it isn’t something we know how to do at this time. Therefore we can’t replace what we have now, until we know more about doing things in a new way.
The first step always begins when the mind expands into new concepts of what is possible.
Lauren Torres – Lansing, IL
Copyright © 2017 [Lauren Torres]. All rights reserved
Do not reproduce with out express written permission.
Originally Published June 12, 2017 [Updated February 2020]
The Origins Of Fatherhood, An Ancient Family Process – an interesting essay on the historical developments of the concept of father. Related to hierarchy, because patriarchy is where the father or male is the head of the family. Its a long, but clearly written and discusses theories that are worthwhile as food for thought. I would note that it discusses when concepts of fatherhood come from an unequal distribution of power, rather than the fact that fathers have important positive roles to play in their children’s lives.