No More Tiers: Equal Dignity and Respect

A hand writing on a chalkboard, ranking things.
Have you ever been “tiered”? Perhaps you haven’t heard it put that way, but you’ve probably been a victim of the practice.

Maybe at work you are solely called by your job title or maybe the last event you attended only allowed for VIPs and above — with you ranking below. Or perhaps your relationship status placed you out of the circle of your friends who are married and have kids. Have you been asked to move to the back of the group for the sake of strategy? Did someone “get to know you” and then abruptly ask to get to know a friend of yours?

Chances are you might have been “tiered.” You were placed on a scale and your number didn’t quite measure up to the other person. It hurts. And unfortunately most of us have these stories of when we weren’t good enough for someone else.

One of the most bizarre examples in my own life occurred recently. I walked into a meeting with about 20 others. We worked for different organizations, but all of us would occasionally come together to discuss issues or coordinate efforts. On this particular day, we entered a boardroom, and the head of the table was reserved for the person we were all meeting. We were expected to be seated before he arrived. The woman who called for the meeting began darting about, placing people at specific seats and deciding what order we all should sit — in relation to the distance of our “guest of honor.” I rationalized that in my head, She was just trying to place us based on rank in our jobs and potential aesthetics should a picture be taken. Some who had already chosen a seat on their own were asked to move. The person standing next to me took a step back, waiting for his seating assignment. I found the first seat I could find. Promptly, I was asked to move.

While no one technically had an assigned seat, something was happening that happens in every community, work environment and social group — we were being what I call “tiered-off.” We were sized up according to our value in relation to the woman who claimed the role of “Head Tier-er” and her evaluation dictated the location of our seats. While her attitude and actions may have been a bit more obvious and extreme than most, this practice is common.

Sometimes this ranking happens unintentionally by the other party, but regardless, being placed in a lower rating is crushing. Someone evaluates you, and finds you lacking. Even if the evaluation is not accurate, it’s still hurtful.

When We Put Others in Tiers

But what was even more disheartening was when I realized I was also guilty of doing this to others.

Sometimes it is easy to treat someone kindly and with utmost respect. The driver who allows others in front of her when merging lanes, the man delivering an expected package, the cute little girl selling cookies. It’s fairly easy to treat all of them with kindness — we don’t have to exercise a grieving muscle that has been wounded by insult or ill will.

But I realized we can’t stop there. We have to remember that we are all created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), so everyone has worth and everyone deserves to be treated with respect — regardless of job title, relationship status, age, gender, appearance — all the things we and others might use to judge someone. If we want to eliminate the tier structure within our spheres of influence, we must treat everyone equally.

What would happen if we started treating everyone who we interact with as if they were worthy of the “guest-of-honor” seat? What if we greeted a homeless person the same way we would greet a famous actor?

We might feel that we haven’t made a difference. Sometimes we may not even know we were kind to someone who has struggled with being “tiered” in the past. But the person who received our kindness will always know.

When Others Put Us in Tiers

But how do we respond to those who have lessened our value? It’s hurtful to watch someone evaluate your worth and dignity. But what’s even more hurtful is living as if that person’s estimation of your worth is accurate, rather than living in the truth that you are worthwhile because you are made in the image of God and He finds you valuable enough to send His very own Son to die that you might live.

But when we let someone else’s words about our value define us — and we don’t measure up — then we often react by hurting others to alleviate our own feelings of hurt. This creates a cycle of destructive behavior, but with Jesus’ help we can stop bringing hurt to ourselves and others. The answer for how to respond is found in Jesus’ example. When persecuted, Jesus continued to show love and compassion to those who initially showed him contempt and disdain.

I know this is difficult to do. When I’m undervalued, I want to respond with the same behavior. But when we are kind — even when someone treats us unkindly — we’re saying we won’t participate in “tiering” people. We are stopping the cycle and shining Christ’s light to others.

Ashley Brannon works as the external relations representative for Focus on the Family in their Washington D.C. office. She is a graduate of the Colson Fellows Program and an adjunct professor of business communications and has written in various publications.

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