A few years ago, I struggle to articulate the fundamental difference between the concepts of niceness and kindness–they are not straight synonyms. This year, my classes keep coming back to equality and individual freedoms. Both my juniors and my seniors have had multiple discussions discussions about equality, reparations for various groups whose ancestors were poorly treated by the US government, privilege, modern racism and prejudice, and class issues.
Equality is the idea that we should all be given the same rights and responsibilities. This generally falls apart in execution due to all of the factors that keep us from being the same. Equality and sameness are not interchangeable, but the way many people discuss equality makes it seem like they are.
“We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe–some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others–some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.”
Atticus Finch’s closing argument: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (274)
Kurt Vonnegut also discussed equality versus sameness in his 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron” (which I teach every couple of years). If we can all acknowledge what Lee and Vonnegut were getting at, then I hope we can dial down on the inherent idea that we are owed anything for existing. Even hard work, extreme dedication, and a core of steel cannot guarantee us success in school or in life. Bad thing happen to good people and good thing happen to bad people which pulls me to the story of Job (yes, the one from The Bible).
Do my rights matter more than anyone else’s?
Do my needs matter more than anyone else’s?
Living in community requires a give-and-take. Sometimes that mean making reparation for the crimes of our government or our ancestors and sometimes it means working to make sure that the playing field of life is a well maintained as possible. Human nature dictates that we will never be equal in practice. What I take from these stories is that why things are the way they are matters less than how I treat others in the here and now.