White men are often recognized as having social rank. The white man is recognized as having a social privilege in the United States and other Western cultures. Being more accurate this would hold to those who are perceived to be white, heterosexual, physically able, Christian men. As religion and sexual orientation are often invisible, most white skinned men fall into this category of having high social rank.
However, being gay or of another sexual orientation, or being Jewish or of another religion, does not hold the same privilege as Christian and straight white men. There are important differences in psychology and rank by being part of these marginalized groups. Gay men need to be careful of sharing their sexual identity with others as there is a danger of being attacked for this identity. In the group process, an African American gay man apologizes to another gay man for outing him to the group without his permission, recognizing that this is dangerous. At another moment in the group process another gay man, this time a Christian white gay man, shares how he can almost not stand to live in the world. Even with many high social rankings, being gay makes living in the world almost unbearable for him. Gay clients have shared with me their anxiety and terror of being gay in a homophobic world. Gay couples have shared the difficulties of the world’s oppression creeping into their bedrooms and relationships, causing significant difficulties and suffering. Gay men have specific needs which are not addressed in many of the more mainstream men’s movements. The desire to address these forms of oppression, as well as related social concerns, are some of the reasons for the development of the gay men’s movements.
Similarly, Jewish men are in danger of being attacked for being Jewish. In the interview, Mindell shares the pain and agony of his childhood, where he experienced being Jewish in an Italian anti-Semitic neighborhood and being physically beaten regularly due to being Jewish. In the group process a Jewish man shares the suffering he has felt all his life due to the oppression of the Jewish people. These oppressions are important to recognize. Mindell cautions that the Jewish group as a whole do not see clearly enough the social oppression and marginalization that Jews are still subject to. He states that paranoia and somatic symptoms can emerge from not recognizing the cultural marginalization that one is subject to for being Jewish. Recognizing diversity amongst white men is important. Generalizing to men, or even white men, without a recognition of other rank variables can be unconsciously oppressive.
Using Mindell’s ranking system, it is clear that everyone has some power. However, the power we do have depends on the complex interplay of social, psychological and spiritual factors. From this perspective Farrell’s (1993) assertion that men’s power is a myth, and Kipnis (1991) and Kammer’s (1992) focus on the inequalities and prejudices towards men of some aspects of the legal system, begin to recognize the complexities of power and some of the costs of having gender based social power. However, they fall short in recognizing the rank and power that certain groups of men do have.
Identifying with the rank we do have is challenging. Mindell (1995) states that those who do have rank frequently do not know they have it. It is the absence of rank, or the impact of our poor use of rank on others, that awakens us to problems of rank. In the group process, the Jewish white man is repeatedly challenged to acknowledge having rank. However, he does not experience this rank and constantly changes the focus back to the aspects of his own rank identity where he feels marginalized for being Jewish and economically disadvantaged. It is only when others begin to identify their rank, such as a white women, that the feeling and atmosphere in the group process changes. The white women asks, “I wonder why I don’t get it?” (her rank and privilege). She continues to share about how focusing her identity onto her rank as a white woman, and the actions of this rank, requires that she become vulnerable and see all the pain and suffering that has been caused by her misuse of this rank. She experiences this change in focus and awareness as a death of her old identity. To this, an African American woman exclaims, “You wouldn’t be dying, you would be coming alive. It’s a choice to have more and more happiness, a choice to be more alive. More in pain, more in pain, more powerful, more making a contribution and a difference in the world.”
An African American women in the group process appeals to those with social rank. “Being white or heterosexual or whatever, from my point of view, is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s the power I have and what I want to do with it? I can do something with it. I can make a difference. So when people sit in denial, I don’t want to dump this all on you (white men), but when there’s denial it sounds like I am not going to use my power to make a difference. If you are this person you are dangerous to me. I feel endangered because I know you are not going to help me.” It is agonizing for those who have been oppressed by a rank to feel that even the rank itself is not recognized by the oppressor. This perpetuates the sense of invisibility of the experience of those with less rank, and demonstrates a lack of awareness of both the suffering we cause others and our own rank, and results in an ineffective use of this rank.
The appeal to those who have higher rank to recognize and use it well is an appeal to personal responsibility. It indicates that power is in the hand of the individual. Each of us has the free will to awaken to the effects of our rank and choose how we might better use this rank well. This perspective challenges the conditioning model of Skinner (1948), as well as the unconscious forces of psychoanalysis, and believes that people can awaken from purely adapting to social demands through the developing of self awareness and reflection. It recognizes that power is in the hands of all of us, rather than a select few. Plato’s philosopher kings and queens are, in Process Work terms, roles in the field which are available through awareness to everyone at different moments, rather a state attributed to a specific person.
Under the focus and at times attack of a group, as well as under the weight of our own suffering, it is very difficult to identify with the rank we have. However, unless we identify our rank we cannot use it well. Men with rank need others to help them to awaken to their rank so it can be used not only in the benefit of others, but also to address men’s own suffering and needs.
The Call to Men to Use Rank Well
Men are being called to use rank well. Whether it be through inner difficulties, personal conflict, relationship and rank troubles or a desire to change the world, men are faced with a calling to use rank well. In order to do this we need to begin to recognize the rank we have, and address the messages we receive, both within and without, when we are not using it well.
Rage and Fury, The Call to White Men
Those who feel marginalized by the misuse of rank at one moment may find their own voice, expressing their rage at the rankful position. The rage felt towards white men is well expressed in the group process by an African American woman who says, “I openly state that I deal with a lot of rage about white men in America. I feel the invisibility as a result of being an African American woman in America. An overweight, over forty African American woman in America. As large as my body is, as colorful as my skin is, sometimes I am just not seen. Walking through a door, driving in my car, anywhere. That’s something that’s my fire...”
Rage is expressed at white men in many moments: in this group process, by focusing on the white Jewish man and his privilege around race; in other worldwork situations, by women shouting at white men about their feelings of being oppressed as women. This rage often manifests after years of pain and oppression by those marginalized by the men’s unconscious and poor use of rank. The voices of anger and fury are diverse: those of people of color, those of women, those with other sexual orientations apart from heterosexuals, those who are from different classes and even men themselves. The voice of anger is an awakening voice, a call. It is uncomfortable and disturbing, but can awaken those men and women, who in their comfort are not awake to their own rank and how they use it. It is a call from those who feel put down and have a sense that the other feels superior, above them, better than them. It is a challenge to awaken to relationship with others who might not have the same privileges and comforts as you might have. It is also a personal awakening, an awakening to parts of ourselves which are also asleep, the costs of which we might feel but know little of. For men, the costs of going to war, the costs of being the provider, the costs of violence perpetrated towards themselves and other men, the costs which translate into living with higher risks of ill health and dying early. The awakening goes even further, returning to those who are enraged, challenging them too to take their power, irrespective of the oppressive voices and their lower rank, and to rise in their own beauty and fullness as people. To develop independent of the oppression around them, and to grow deeper and wiser from this. These ideas are visions and understandings I will share more fully as we continue in this chapter. No one can be expected to rise to these visions, and yet people have been able to do so, depending on their own process and following their own river of experience.
Listening to the Call
The rage against white men is a call for white men to awaken to their oppression of others. In Chapter 6, I wrote of my experience of answering the call of the women who were asking where the white men were. Why do white men disappear at difficult moments? As a white man, I realized that this call was not only the call of the angry women’s voices, but also my own inner voice calling me to be involved in the social issues of the world. It was not just the fury of the woman shouting at me as a white man, but also the fury of my own internalized voice calling me to action. Early in the group process in Chapter 6, a white Jewish man asks about his numbness, and why he feels so numb in reading of the abuses in the world. As he concludes later in the process, his own fear of being Jewish had paralyzed him from being involved in the world. His father had said he was a target and he ought not to show himself in the world. I too am Jewish, and describe the story of my own conflict with my mother who was afraid of my involvement in the racial tensions of South Africa. This voice calling to men is also calling to me, as a white man. It is the call to relationship, to social awakening and involvement. In order to do this, men need to be open to the feedback of the other who is disturbed by them and take this as valid and important information. Viewing our judgements of the other as a projected part of ourselves and our own inner voice is a valuable psychological tool and a central approach in Process work. It is a way of making life more whole--but it does require psychological rank and awareness to do this.
Recognizing Rank Problems
It is difficult to see the rank that we do have. And yet, the absence of rank, brings awareness to this absence in comparison to others who might have this rank. When social rank is used poorly, those who are affected by this poor use of rank will notice the divisions and privileges of rank even more acutely. At times this will be easily identified and will create direct conflict in a relationship. At other times it will not be recognized, but will create a sense of ill feeling and unhappiness for the marginalized person, as well as a lack of ease in the relationship between the parties. An example of the poor use of rank is discussed in Appendix D when I present the experience of eating out with a friend, and a soccer coach approached with his wife. By not introducing his wife to the table, the coach excluded her from a fairly lengthy conversation. She was marginalized in this conversational moment, and also marginalized in her relationship with her partner.
Mindell in the interview gives a further example, where a woman is continually upset with a man. “He will always think ‘that’s just because she’s a woman’ that she’s in that state, instead of realizing the role that he has with his social rank. He will never understand her continuously being upset as a function of his feeling above her. So the way to recognize rank problems is by noticing he is thinking the other one has the problem. The woman has the problem. That itself is a rankist attitude.” For anyone who has rank, whether it be the social rank of a man or the spiritual rank of an activist, if they are not conscious of the rank they have, they will tend to be oppressive. The poor use of rank will be displayed in the displeasure and unhappiness of people and the world around them. The awakening of the Men’s Liberation Movements in the 1970s to the suffering of women was an awakening to rank and the effects of rank. Similarly, the Radical Men’s Movements today continue to encourage this awakening in men.
Further, Mindell continues that “after a while thinking the other one is the only problem for a long period of time, [you] know you’re stuck....and it doesn’t make you happy. You burn out....It burns you out. You think you’re always better than the other person, whether it’s a spiritual rank of the activist or the man that suddenly burns, you start burning out on your activities.” Here Mindell draws a parallel between misuse of rank and the suffering of the one in a rankful position. Those who constantly hold a rankful position, tend to get stuck in this position, lose energy and get depressed. Not only does the misuse of rank result in unhappiness in relationships and in the world from those who suffer from the misuse of rank, but the rankful people themselves become unhappy, and feel both separated from others and alienated in the world. Recognizing rank and using it well creates a better feeling within one’s self and in those around us. Many writers (Bly, 1990; Farrell, 1974; Kimmel, 1996) focus on these costs of being a man and the resulting experience for men of restriction, unhappiness and depression.
The white Jewish man in the group process is in this position. He experiences a display of unhappiness from those around him due to his difficulty in identifying with his rank as a man. He also suffers considerably himself from the sense of alienation and difficulties he is having in relationship with others in the group. This suffering in relationship is not only prevalent in his life but evident in many moments in the group process itself.
The Challenges of the White Man to Recognize Social Rank
In the group process an African American man addresses a white Jewish man, and pointing to him states, “You are a white man, and what I have seen with white men and me being a black man, you represent authority. You have to wear this one. It’s not fair to you, but unfortunately that’s the way the society sets it up for you guys...when you say, hey, I don’t want to deal with this, I don’t want to be seen as white. Oh god, that really hurts me. That really hurts that you don’t want to know my fucken pain. Your image hurts me.”
It is difficult to listen to an accusation, which often comes in the form of an attack. It presents the man with having to accept an authority as a white man which he might not feel. The natural inclination may be to defend himself at this moment, especially if he feels weak and vulnerable, that is if he has low psychological rank. On a social rank level, the white man has rank over the African American man by virtue of his white skin, but psychologically he feels weaker and has lower rank. The African American man at this moment has more psychological rank and because he feels right, with justice and fairness on his side, also feels more spiritual rank. In the interview, when asked about the white man listening to the voices of anger, Mindell responds, “How can they hear it? They are being attacked. How are you supposed to learn something if you’re being attacked for it? It doesn’t work. The question is, why doesn’t the group understand the problem--not just that particular individual. I will always be saying this. Instead of putting the weight on a given individual, I am saying why doesn’t the community consciousness realize that people who have rank can’t get it? They don’t know how.”
Mindell later cautions that expecting others who have higher social rank to listen to an attack on them and hear the message as if it is their own voice, or as a call to awakening, is unconsciously psychologically rankful. It is asking those with low psychological rank to recognize something they don’t know how to do. In order to listen to the message of an attacker, we need high psychological rank and awareness. Expecting those with social rank to have this psychological awareness does not make sense. Many people with social rank are not psychologically aware. This is evident in the interactions in the group process where those accused of social rank have difficulty acknowledging this rank.
Listening to the fury is not easy. It might well be more important to defend ourselves from the anger, or feel misunderstood and want to redirect the discussion to our own personal needs as men. In the group process it was difficult for the white Jewish man to hear the angry voices. His needs at that moment were in another area; he wanted a different form of contact and connection. This too is important. Those with more social rank do have the power at times to choose the focus of a discussion, and given that choice, he wanted to redirect the focus based on his needs at that moment. The ability to identify the angry voice as a part of ourselves and work with understanding its message is a tool which is difficult for most people, especially those who already have demanding personal issues they are working on. Mindell in the interview states that it is a psychological rank that enables a man, or woman for that matter, to be able to do this. Expecting others to also have this psychological rank is in itself unconscious of one’s own psychological rank and ability to be able to do this kind of work. And yet listening to the angry voices as inner voices is possible and has occurred for many people. Levinas (Kunz, 1998) offers a potential response to this dilemma by stating that within our very identity is the need to listen to the call of others and the need to use our freedom to respond responsibly to their call. Frankl (1969) agrees that we are called to help others, but differs in stating that we do have the choice of how we will respond to this call. Whether we are innately compelled to respond to the condition of others is uncertain. However, the costs of not following this call and the ensuing numbness, emptiness and alienation as a consequence of not responding are represented by both myself and the other white Jewish man in the group process.
What might well have been possible in recognizing and standing for rank in the group process analyzed in chapter 6 would have been for the facilitator to have taken the role of the white Jewish man who was attacked, and modeled how to listen from this position. Standing fully in the role of the white man, recognizing rank and hearing the anger and hurt caused by unconscious and inappropriate use of rank, is a way of taking responsibility for the group. The facilitators might have alleviated the pressure on the white Jewish man by taking this role. It is also possible for another member to take this role. At this moment in the group process, marginalized members of the group were appealing to the white Jewish man to acknowledge his rank. Another white man entered angrily exclaiming to the white Jewish man that the marginalized groups need to be heard. At this moment this man could have taken the role and listened to the marginalized voices, rather than place this responsibility on the white Jewish man who in feeling attacked was unable to recognize his rank. It is easier for us to project our own lack of awareness of rank onto another than to be able to stand in this position ourselves.
Using Social Rank Well
Developing the awareness to recognize the rank one has is freeing and liberating. For white men it opens the door to using their social rank with awareness and care. It creates an enriching personal life with effective relationships and possibilities of growth and development--personally, in relationships and in the world. It is also challenging and at times difficult. There are few models of men in social rank positions who are able to publicly acknowledge and use their rank well.
In the interview Mindell comments that the way Bill Clinton dealt with the Lewinsky affair demonstrates his limited psychological rank. When asked how Clinton might have used his rank well, Mindell answers, “If he had more psychological rank he would have said to himself, ‘I have got a problem here. I’m a human being. Since I’m simultaneously a political figure, maybe I’m a role in the field. Maybe what I’m learning could be used for the whole country. Maybe the whole world. And he could have said, ‘Let me handle this at different levels, let me tell people about my inner work. I notice that there is a part of me which is needing love and doesn’t know what to do about it’...I know you won’t vote for me again if I tell you these things, but I feel like the world could learn from this.’ That would be amazing.” Clinton has very high social rank, he is one of the most socially powerful people in the world today. Because he is a prominent world leader and public figure, his own personal psychology and challenges are evident in the public arena. What he does and how he works on his own personal challenges models, for many people in the world, how they might also address their own personal growth.
The Pope in his recent visit to Jerusalem is attempting to move in this direction. In his apology for the abuses of Christians towards many people during the Crusades, for not taking a stand against the holocaust and the oppression of Nazi Germany, and so on, he recognizes the abuses that Christians have placed on others due to their misuse of social rank through many centuries. Through apologizing, he opens the door for those who have social rank to develop awareness of this rank and to embrace social interactions where rank is also used in the care of others.
The social modeling of this kind of psychological rank by a white man is rare. In the group process I comment on Arnold Mindell doing this at a seminar, where he was interrupted in the middle of his presentation by a participant. At this moment he was able to listen carefully to the participant, and follow her needs and feedback for himself and the larger Process community. Those who feel acknowledged by a person, in this case a white man with social rank, feel this opening and often appreciate deeply this invitation to enter into the interaction. Using rank well enriches the possibility of relationship and mutual growth, and assists in the sharing of this platform of power. Not only was the participant enriched by experiencing her feedback as being valued and accepted, but Mindell and the larger Process community were able to listen and grow from this feedback. It became a mutually enriching process.