The root of the word “equality” is from the Latin meaning “even or level,” as in, “leveling the playing field.” In other words, it means that everyone has an even chance — or even … a chance.
Too often when we talk about social equality, people think it’s about sanding everyone down so they look or sound or want the same. Sadly, that is an interpretation that is too wrong and too sad.
What equality is really about is not protecting the rights of some but protecting the rights of all. Or as the fabulous Bette Midler reminds us, “Be yourself; if you’re not yourself, you’re a bore.”
There is an old teaching that when we die and stand in celestial judgment, we won’t be asked why we weren’t more like Gandhi or Mother Teresa. The verdict instead will read: “We already had a Gandhi and Mother Teresa. We needed you!”
The Divine is infinite. And as we are each a reflection of the Divine, what we look like or think like — or even what we like — is equally infinite. Perhaps when we see others, we should come to know it as God trying on faces.
The poet Rumi reminds us, “You are not a drop in the ocean; you are the entire ocean in a drop.”
For any of us to make peace with and respect the individuality of the others is not possible if we do not accept and make peace with own individuality … and our individual struggles and triumphs. Surely it is wise to acknowledge that while our struggles and triumphs may have a common name, our experience of them is individual.
Denying the equality of others is self-abusive at its root and is a bitter fruit that is rotten before it is ripe. This world is not a gift from the past; it is something we have borrowed from our children. The future our children inherit will either treat them equally or treat them all with equal unfairness.
The mythological scales of justice are held by a figure whose eyes are masked. That doesn’t mean that justice is blind, but rather justice witnesses that if we don’t treat each other equally it is because we are already blinded by our prejudices.
Give the person next to you the right to be who they are. Who knows, they may treat you the same. And then Louis Armstrong will have it right. It will be a wonderful world.