That old quote we have all heard may be sexist, in that it excludes all those genders that aren’t men; but even if we change ‘all men are created equal’ to ‘all people are created equal’, we still don’t get any closer to the truth. We each have unique DNA that gives us certain advantages and disadvantages right out of the gate, we each get raised in an environment that is not duplicated exactly even for siblings reared in the same household, and we all live in a world where what country you are born in says a lot about your options.
Does that sound like equality to you?
Alright, so we can dispense with that myth. What we can’t push aside so easily is the concept of equality itself. Most of us have some idea of what this means to us, just as most of us feel that some form of equality should be available to everyone. What we seem to get confused about is what kind of laws and rules should get instituted to enforce equality. As harsh as it sounds, certain people and companies don’t see equality like most of the rest of us do. They’ll hire people based on race or gender or religious beliefs if someone doesn’t stop them, or any other myriad of discriminating factors; and such practices can’t be said to keep equality in mind at all.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that we tend to group up by sex and race and religion, so we are kind of fighting some pretty basic instincts here; and it’s hard to imagine someone wanting to work for an employer that doesn’t want them around, but we’ve got to draw some lines somewhere. Since we already have so many lines drawn by other people, I suppose we should start by learning to work within those established parameters.
We’re already talking about jobs, so we should have a look at equality in the workplace. There are no laws enforcing equality of any kind among siblings, beyond fulfilling everyone’s basic needs; but that’s no surprise. We already know children are more marginalized than anyone. They get their first real chance at some kind of equality in school, but none of that really matters much for most people. Once we hit the workplace, we can start to see how things shake down in the real world.
Making sure everyone is being equally compensated for the work they do sounds both basic and fair. Anyone who has been part of a team knows it seldom is, however. Most of us have discovered at some point that a coworker bent on doing nothing is somehow making more than us, or that the person who skips out early every day to pick up their kid from school is being paid as many hours as everyone else. The first lesson most of us need to learn when we enter the workforce brings another old saying to mind.
Life isn’t fair.
As much as that seems contrary to the concept of equality, we get mired in misperception if we continue to childishly insist that life be fair. Watch a nature channel sometime; and just be grateful that when life isn’t fair to us, the consequences are not nearly as dire as they are in that world. We might complain about those that feed on us figuratively, but we seldom have to worry about literally being eaten alive.
Some people can negotiate better than others, some people have a natural charisma that makes almost everyone like them; and finding any two people that learn a skill at exactly the same speed is like finding matching snowflakes in a blizzard. Beyond that, we have to look at who puts the most care and attention to detail into a project. We have to consider who starts early and who stays late, and what each person does with the number of hours they do put in.
When we really start considering all the factors at play when it comes to getting even the simplest task completed, the only real way we can reach equality in the workplace is by issuing paychecks as unique as the individuals receiving them. Rather than say everyone should make the same amount, true equality in the workplace almost demands that no two people should be getting the same size paycheck. If you pay lazy workers the same wage you pay the highest producers, you’re rewarding the lazy for their laziness while punishing the producers for their productiveness. Clearly, this path leads to one collectively lazy workforce if allowed to play out long term.
Then who’s going to get all the work done?
Of course, it’s nice to think that we all deserve a lot of love in our lives; but even this is a place where equal opportunity creates unequal outcomes. Those of us who have spent time residing in a dark place or two know when we want love most we are least likely to find it, and that getting to a place where you can love yourself is an important first step on the path to loving someone else. Nothing about any of that sounds fair, but it’s the way of things nonetheless. Countless skills and practices come into play when you do find that someone, and those that are not up to the tasks are not able to keep it together. Even those that are get blindsided every now and then, and good hearts break around the world every day.
What we really should be shooting for with all this equality talk is equal opportunity. Those that don’t work to make opportunities come along or seize them when they do will see no reward in this kind of system, but objective reality demands that someone is producing those rewards that will get handed out somewhere along the line. The only way to have those rewards is to create or produce some kind of results, so it only makes sense to reward the folks working hard to get results.
These people come from all walks of life, but no one can realistically deny that some of them started out with more opportunity than others. Many professional fields that require extensive schooling are flooded with folks with parents willing and able to pay that high price, and the increasing cost of college makes this situation a little worse for everyone with each passing year. Others get grants or loans or scholarships, but even these opportunities are not available to everyone. As much as I might dislike the current educational system, I am still fully aware that many professions specifically require such an investment just to get to that first day on the job.
Privileged kids may often grow up to be privileged adults, and the upper class in this country is pretty typically made up of people who were raised in upper class households. However, there is an anomaly that happens a little too often to be called an anomaly. What about all those people who start with nothing and become ultra rich? The story has been told so many times it’s almost a cliche, but somehow most of us never tire of hearing some new version of it.
The real mind bender here is that these are the most classic examples of equal opportunity, and what can be accomplished through obsessive hard work no matter where you come from. But before we can celebrate that, we have to look at how most of these stories start out. Some of us may envy these people their success; but no one envies them the harsh conditions they often began in. Nearly every great success has an origin story peppered with trauma of some kind, almost to the point where the fan of these stories and people have to wonder if early tragedy is an essential component to later success.
We’ll get into that more next week, in a post called…
Thanks for reading!
All the best,