Interpersonal Rules that Undermine Your Relationships #5

Rule #5 – In a hierarchical social structure, individuals at the top (dominant group) define the reality of those at the bottom (subordinate group) without any real knowledge of the subordinate group member’s strengths and weaknesses.  However, the subordinate group must pay close attention to the needs and desires of the dominant group.

     Once dominant and subordinate roles have been established in a culture, the dynamics between the two groups keeps stratification in place.  With little communication between the two groups, the dominant group is free to define both physical and emotional reality for everyone.  Dominant group members are often in the position to assign tasks and jobs that they have no interest in but are necessary to keep society afloat to subordinate group members. These jobs are often involve care- taking or service-oriented work, like cleaning houses and caring for children, the elderly, and the infirmed.  With basic day-to-day necessities taken care of for the dominant group, the members can carve out areas of interest such as running companies, investing money, and managing people.

      In a stratified culture, the dominant group also holds the power to define how the society sees the subordinate group of people.  These views may be critical and self serving feeding the narrative that the subordinate group is inferior.  In the US, illegal immigrants are have recently been demonized and described as dirty, lazy, and even criminal. To the dominant group, banning them from entry into the United States is a logical conclusion given these “facts”.  A strong belief often develops within the dominant group that the subordinates are subordinate because they are inferior to the hard-working members of the dominant group.  Whatever differences actually exist between the two groups is exaggerated, distorted, and used as justification for the dominant group’s non-mutual relational skills. The level of relational rigidity in the dominant-subordinate dynamic is destructive for all and with little chance of cross-pollination of real experience between the two groups, serves to keep the power over dynamics invisible and in place.

           In a non-relational world, if you are a member of the subordinate group you must pay close attention to the needs and behaviors of dominant group members.  Your lives or at least your livelihoods depend on it.  On the other hand, staying in a dominant role requires having a vested interest in not knowing the authentic experience of people in the inferior, subordinate role.  Chronic disconnection is built into the system and is essential in keeping the dominant and subordinate roles in place.  This chronic disconnection is malignant; it involves shutting down and shutting out the  biological mechanism of human connection that supports your health and well-being.  When this happens, individuals and whole communities disconnect from their internal experience and from their impact on others.  This leads to large-scale distrust and disintegration in the larger human community.

Source: Lisa Langhammer, Used with permission

      In a world where relationship is central, dominating others is not so much fun because you actually feel the pain and frustration of the person you are dominating.  In a relational world active listening is the norm for everyone and knowing the person next to you and being known by that person translates into not only improved communication and more effective collaboration at work and at home, but also improved health for yourself and the people you are interacting with.


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