Or are we just performing a different but equally valuable role in our society? (At least we should hope that our role contributes as much as the sanitation workers’.)

Disagree with me? Then you’ve never lived in a place where the sanitation workers went on strike for a living wage in the middle of a very hot, very humid, very long summer.

Jobs aren’t who we are. They’re what we do as a (hopefully) contributing member of whatever group we pledge our allegiance to. Ideally we use our strengths to complement others’ weaknesses – and vice versa. But we’re still equal, still part of the same society, even if we’re more familiar with that subset we call a tribe, team or family. Still not convinced? What happens to the superstar athlete when the other players don’t do their jobs? What happens to your digestive system – and the rest of you – if that hole in your butt stops doing its job?

So what’s the big deal?

Many people mistake their position in a hierarchy with their role as a person. When everything and everyone is in their place and “I’m better than you because I make more money and don’t work with my hands,” we’ve lost respect.

Without respect we can justify slavery, discrimination, poverty wages and religious proselytizing.

Does hierarchy demand unquestioning surrender to a higher power? Or should it simply recognize strengths, weaknesses and our role in life? Most of us have endured the prescriptions of outside “experts” who parachute into our lives without any knowledge of local conditions and context. They prescribe one-size-fits all solutions from the business best seller du jour. Create chaos. And leave. They don’t know, don’t value and don’t respect the local culture or the environment that created it.

The arrogance of ignorance isn’t limited to business. It’s a hallmark of organized religion too.

Belief systems arising to address issues in a particular culture grow into organizations bent on self-preservation through growth. (Sort of sounds like I’ve just described cancer, as well.) With self-professed divine authority they send their sales forces to societies that have been doing very well without them, thank you. These sales reps [excuse me, missionaries] ignore local culture to trample on local societies and sensitivities. Often, they work hand-in-hand with the missionaries of capitalism with a common goal: more market share and more raw material. We saw this in the colonial Americas, Africa and Pacific islands years ago.

We still see it today with sanctimonious do-gooders arriving in these same societies for two weeks to build sales offices and retail outlets, excuse me, churches and schools. The most recent group I met, in Guatemala, was building a parsonage for the sales rep their congregation was sending to the region. It reminded me of building a military outpost in a remote land whose resource a country wanted to control. While there are a number of churches doing good work, setting up clean drinking water and similar infrastructure, too often I see gaggles of middle class westerners gawking at societies they’re making no effort to understand while they try to clone their own western values, structures and architecture on the locals. And they don’t understand why the locals don’t take any ownership stake in the project and let it rot after the westerners are gone.

I’ve seen too many finger-pointing condescending vacationers disguised as do-gooders who’ll go back to their home without a trace of understanding about where they’ve been and who they might have associated with. Hopefully, they’ve only been there for a week or two, so that haven’t had a chance to do any permanent damage. These people go back to their living rooms to watch their wide screen TV’s with the same involvement that they watch other societies – be they third world or urban neighborhoods.

Isn’t religion’s purpose to serve, rather than sell?