Three thousand years ago, life in Ancient Egypt was strictly hierarchical. Each person's origin determined which trade or profession he was to take up, his choice of spouse, food, and ideas. No dissidence was possible. There was no opposition and no escape. Progress and innovation were forbidden. Society was closed and, for hundreds of years, it remained immobile.
We no longer live in Ancient Egypt
When Alexander the Great arrived in
Egypt in the year 332 B.C., it didn't take him long to crush the
Egyptian army. The fast, entrepreneurial Greeks destroyed the
bureaucratic Egyptian forces in less than two weeks. The Pharaoh was
deposed and Ptolemy undertook to transform Egypt into a trading emporium
and a marketplace for new ideas.
Only five generations later,
the world had changed beyond recognition. During the years of the Roman
Republic, the idea of hierarchy disappeared from the mind of free
individuals. Despite major differences in wealth and ability, Roman
citizens did not feel inferior to anyone when it came to purchase one
another's products or services.
Under Roman law, if merchant
Croesus hired architect Vitruvius to build him a house, both men were
free to agree the price, terms, and conditions of their contract.
Although Vitruvius worked for Croesus, he did not consider the merchant
to be "his superior." A Roman citizen would have found hierarchy a
laughable idea in the context of a commercial relation.
Many ancient prejudices are still around
the modern digital capacity to draw organizational charts at great
speed, is bringing our mentality back to Egyptian times. How often do we
hear about people who are seriously depressed because their name has
been displaced, in an organizational chart, from one box to another
placed a centimetre below?
While it is indisputable that
commercial organizations need a structure to be able to function
effectively, one should never forget that what keeps individuals working
together is voluntary cooperation in the form of contracts. Commercial
hierarchies as such do not exist in reality, although modern corporate
doctrines go a long way towards obscuring this fact.
If you hire
someone to clean your apartment, you are exchanging your cash for a
service. If you look at yourself in the mirror and feel "superior" to
the person who is cleaning your living-room, you are at odds with
reality. If you work as an employee in a company, you are in no way
"inferior" to whoever is paying you money in exchange for your
Civilized society is based on contractual agreements
Civilized society is composed of a myriad
of formal and informal contracts between citizens. It is
unfortunate that, in the business world, mythical theories about
"leadership" and "stewardship" are doing much harm by creating the
illusion that human hierarchies exist in the marketplace. Such false
theories bring only anxiety, fear, and envy to those unlucky enough to
Work and happiness are individual endeavours. Which
profession you practice, which employment you take, what tasks you
perform, and how much money you make, are the result of contracts that
you have entered into some time ago and in which you have decided to
stay, for the time being.
Adopting a rational view of the world
If you ever catch yourself thinking in
terms of corporate hierarchies, stop whatever you are doing and take a
minute to sharpen your vision.
Forget about "superior" and "inferior"
positions and learn to view human beings simply as buyers and sellers in
the marketplace. Adopting a rational perspective of the world will
bring you the peace of mind of the philosopher and the determination of
the entrepreneur whose freedom to trade has just been rekindled.
For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living
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