He was fresh and frank when he spoke about racism, how it is baked into people’s DNA for generations before its ‘hold’ becomes undone entirely.
This lead him to his work and passion for not just understanding rankism, but turning it into a movement so the generation behind us doesn’t let rankism create more nobodies.
Refer to his book: Nobodoes & Somebodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rankism.
One thing I loved about Robert Fuller was his astute attention to things and people. I saw him in the green room early on and then back stage and as he was wandering around, it was not just as a speaker waiting to go on, but as an observer of ‘intention,’ listening in that way where you knew he was absolutely present for every part of it.
He started his talk by focusing on the word DIGNITY. He says, “to claim such a future, we have to own up to our past,” and reminds us that the past of our species is a predatory past.
“Among your ancestors, there were some great predators or you wouldn’t be here,” he says. “Dignity is on the march yet it is defined by its absense.” As for how the absense of dignity shows up? Words and actions that are patronizing and condescending, which often come across as threats, even if they’re quiet ones.
Robert brought up examples in his own upbringing at a time where racism was prominent and not hidden. Even though he is a generation behind me, it applied to my own childhood and I was raised in the Northeast, not the South. He also shared stories of where it shows up today in India and Bangladesh among other emerging countries.
His calming and purposeful voice then recited a portion of an Emily Dickinson poem on stage:
I’M nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
There there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
From examples to emotions, I loved the way he took us on a journey of dignity and lack of it and an awareness of rankism. Robert shared a thought he had in the middle of the night during a dream: Nobodys of the world unite, we have nothing to worry about or lose but our shame.
You have to wonder if you have such a powerful thought, one which you remember in the middle of a dream as if you were lucid, is it important enough to become a movement? Or a book? Or at least something to act on even if in some small way?
He says, “you can’t start a movement unless you know what you’re for and what you’re against. When women realized that they were against sexism, they had teeth.” He then moves onto the ‘dignity movement’ and asks “what is the dignity movement is against? It is against humiliation, it is against talking down to people, it against one upmanship, and it is against rankism.”
He says, “when you’re a nobody, you look for other nobodies, so you’re not a freak and so you have a pal.” And while I’m sure many of the people in the room reflected on grade school, high school and even college, rankism occurs everyday — in our social encounters and in business, and sometimes it occurs where we are a part and sometimes it occurs where we are the observer.
Robert says with intent, “you’re probably wondering whether our predatory nature of our past is embedded in our DNA and there’s nothing we can do it. I remind you that this is exactly what men said about the women’s movement. Rankism is the residue of predation. Rankism and predation are extremely dangerous…..and humiliation is more dangerous than plutonium.“
I’ll leave you with this thought as he left us with this and other important observations about dignity, rankism, humiliation and how we treat people everyday.
Protect other people’s dignity as you would your own.
He ends with this powerfully simple but important statement: “there’s only one thing that is more important than how we treat the planet and that’s how we treat each other.”