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Vertical To Horizontal: A New Workplace Reality

Written by Rune Kvist Olsen Saturday, 08 April 2006

The myth and reality of human relationships

What does it means to be human? It is simply freedom from control. Competitive pursuit of personal survival and personal advancement is quite the opposite driving mechanism. Therefore there is a fundamental difference between animal mentality as competitive, and human mentality as cooperative. The urge of cooperation is the factor that makes us human and it is the primary mechanism that forms human relations. Competition on the other hand is the factor that makes us non-human and creates non-human relations. Freedom from control and domination requires an inter-human relating in horizontal equality relationships with others.

Horizontal equality (an egalitarian power structure) inclines equal opportunities and possibilities to:

  1. Challenge control
  2. Resist domination
  3. Exercise choice
  4. Question authority
  5. Refuse command

The core of horizontal organizing is a relationship based upon free and responsible equals with no outer and outside elements of control, command and domination.

Personal freedom is encumbered with uncertainty which is frightening to people long used to the supposed security that emanated from a commanded and controlled existence. So, ignoring the possibility and opportunity to be free, many people find it safer to retreat into the security of the hierarchical existence by persuasion and their submission to the traditional and the presumed familiar order. That is because people are used to doing just that through their workplace history, and because people find submissive behaviour as their only real option in their workplace situation.

Freedom means responsibility to make choices and to live with the consequences of those choices. It can appear in the first round more secure to be handing over the responsibility to others, and letting others take responsibility for personal actions, rather than risking the uncertainty in making our own choices. The retreat to being controlled, however, is a denial of our essence as human beings and a choice to move into the animal-like existence of a commanded creature. The primitive desire to be controlled can to a certain degree explain the drive in people to place themselves under leadership by others and to be led by others. But this drive and disposition is not a human trait and not at all an ingredient in a human relationship, but instead an animal-liked instinct to fall into the fold of being controlled by authorities.

Such subservience to leadership alleviates the fear of insecurity that accompanies true freedom, and undermines the personal responsibility that is essential to human development. To choose and make choices are in their essence insecure and unpredictable matters. But freedom is actually about making free decisions. Responsibility is about making decisions and taking the consequences, whether the consequences are good or bad. If we however resist freedom and want to avoid the consequences of freedom, we at the same time do not accept the responsibilities which are embedded in the nature of freedom. Then we also deny our human abilities to act as the responsible human beings we certainly are. The question of being responsible or not, is to do with the question of being able to take responsibility for own actions. It is certainly not the question of not being able to take responsibility. This is just one of the great deceits that fool us in thinking that we are in need of outside authorities to take responsibility on behalf of ourselves.

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