You know that equality is a ‘good’ thing. All ‘good’ people believe in and practice equality. You want to bring up your child to be a ‘good’ human being, so you’re determined to teach him about equality in his infancy. Once he’s acquired some vocabulary, you go to work on him in earnest. “People are equal, my son,” you say. And you carry on without pausing for breath, giving him the ways in which people are equal: everyone has two eyes, one nose, one mouth, two arms, two legs… (Really? Not everyone has all those features, but he’s too little to have come across many exceptions as yet, so you can get away with saying this to him.)
“… so people are equal. Understand?” you beam at him as you finally wind down. He’s puzzled, but nods dutifully. You seem to expect him to nod, and whenever he’s nodded in response to your question of “Understand?”, he’s found approval from you, so he repeats the response. How much he’s actually understood is another story altogether.
In fact, I wonder if you realise how little you understand of what you are explaining to him.
A few years down the line, he’s better equipped to deal with abstract concepts like ‘equality’. He’s also begun to question things. So when you trot out your ‘equality spiel’ to ‘teach’ him about equality, he’s ready for you.
“No, people are not equal,” he says categorically. “X is fair, Y is dark, A is fat, B is thin, I am a child and Granny is old and wrinkly, P is tall and Q is short, L smiles a lot and M is always shouting… People are NOT equal.”
“No, no,” you insist, trying to bulldoze your way because you are bigger. Yes, that’s exactly what it amounts to! You’re pulling rank, because you’re the parent, and you think that means you’re in the ‘right’, that you ‘know’ more than your child does, and you’re always trying to ‘educate’, ‘teach’, and ‘show’ him things so that he can ‘learn’ from you.
Get over yourself for a minute.
He’s right! People are different, and they are NOT equal. Why don’t you accept this simple truth from him? You can push your own point of view down his throat after you acknowledge his comment. But you barely pay attention to what he says. Why not?
“No, no. People are all equal – they are the same. God has made us; or, we all belong to the same species.” (depending on which view of the origin of life you endorse 🙂 )
And he’s squinting up at you wondering, “What is wrong with this person? Why can’t he/she get that people are different? Can’t they see? Don’t they have any sense?”
Eventually you say, “Equality means we treat everyone the same way. No matter what your sex, age, where you’re from, whether you are rich or poor, educated or not, you are a human being so you deserve to be treated as one.”
You are a shining example of this, of course. You treat your supervisor the same way you treat your subordinate. You treat your housekeeper or assistant the same way you treat your neighbour. You treat a beggar on the street the same way you treat your friend. And to take it further, you do, obviously, treat your child the same way you treat your parents. Right?
It’s time to get off your moral high horse. You can ‘teach’ your child till you’re blue in the face, but she’s only going to learn what she sees you DO.
When you treat someone below you on the social ladder with contempt, she’s watching. When you put on airs and graces to pretend you are in a social or economic level above your own, she’s taking silent notes. When you yell at a roadside beggar to drive her away (what a phrase!), she’s learning.
You are grace and refinement itself when entertaining your supervisor, but curt and nitpicking with your domestic staff. Closer home, when your mother asks how things are between you and your partner, she’s showing how much she cares. When your mother-in-law asks you the same thing, she simply hasn’t learned to keep her nose out of your life, the interfering busybody! 🙂
Of course you’re the right person to teach your child about equality! And we all collectively wonder why the world is going to hell in a handcart…
Why are we so politically correct about everything?
Look around you. People are not equal. You know this. Put yourself and your child out of misery by acknowledging it. Say, “it is very sad to see orphaned children begging on the streets, and it is terrible to be disgusted by the dirt on their bodies and the snot on their faces, but it is also natural to feel that way.”
Acknowledge reality. Know in every way it is possible for you to know that people are not equal. Let your child know it also.
Only after you face this reality will your child listen when you tell him, “People are different from each other. In fact, the same person is different at different times. Like when I’m happy about something, I’m more fun to be around, and when I’m worried or tired then I snap at almost everything and everyone. Still, despite the differences between people, we are all human beings. And it is a good idea to try and behave well with each other. It is not the poor person’s fault that he is poor. Just because we have more money/things/education than he, doesn’t give us the right to treat him as if he were an animal. After all, lots of people are richer than we are, and we would hate it if they shouted at us or pushed us around or treated us badly in other ways just because they had more things than we do.”
You might say, “No matter how tired I am or how stressed, there are certain ways I will not behave: I won’t hit you or shake you or throw things at you. I love you, and would never do these things to you, but the point is that I would never do these things to anyone else either! That is treating people equally.”
You might say all this, and your child will listen to you and understand what you say. But if you want to ‘teach’ equality, you’ll have to practice it. And, like everything else, equality begins at home! 🙂 More tomorrow…