Equality gets an easy pass when it comes to discussing values. Anyone looking to “oppose” equality is met with knee-jerk social exclamations. Profound difficulty is had in determining upon what exactly the value of equality is based. Values without experiential linkage become mere verbal puffery, as is readily the case when the person speaking so loudly about honesty and integrity steals the silver and lies about their history. Values without behavioral habits also have a tendency to provide a haven for supporting their opposite, as is the case when discussing the value of life and yet selectively applying who is considered worthy.
I can remember my first experience bumping against the equality nerve, an experience likely similar to a great many others, that of being faced with a perception that my siblings were being treated differently than I. “It’s not fair!” is the siren call of the equality value being shattered by parental authority. Looking back, I can with an objectivity provided by age understand better how me and my siblings were quite different people. Those differences resulted in different punishments and for that matter, my parents being human as well, were only as aware as they could be of what went on and then reacted according to what they considered best at the time. What was at issue was not equality, but relational context, each situation arising out the unique relationship between parent-child-environment.
This framework is readily applied to all relationships, with I-other-environment providing a means of determining the foundation out of which behavior arises. This is not a simple equation of 1 + 1 = 2. Relationships are not math, they’re not even an equation, at least not by any math I’m aware of. The ebb and flow of environmental changes, what one person will inspire and draw out of someone as opposed to another, provides a constantly shifting context setting the stage for how values and principles will behaviorally manifest. Relationships cannot be equal in behavior because no relationship is exactly the same.
Looking at another value helps see how this works. Take the value of honesty. What one is honest about will shift based on who you are with. This does not mean lying. Rather, a relationship at work, while still honest (hopefully) will not involve sharing personal aspects of oneself that will later be shared with partner or family member. Honesty here is a principle that like equality, when applied without noting the experiential component of living-within-principle, results in inaccurate judgments of ethical behavior. For instance, it would be just as absurd for a manager to declare their employee dishonest for not sharing their marital discord as it would be for a relational partner of any form to note that one behaves differently around them as around anybody else.
Ideological allegiance to equality requires looking at people in a relational void, where value has only one behavioral outcome. This form of thinking does not allow for the emergence of what is truly the unique self-expression found within each and every relationship. Equality becomes a living value the moment we cease looking at one another and ourselves as separate entities surprisingly occupying similar space. Relational living means equality becomes a value of providing an equal space for relational expression, removing from dialogue the assumption that every moment must look the same as any other.
We can celebrate the multiplicity that is found in each of us by exploring the near-infinite ways in which relational reality allows for behavior often not even initially considered. From this relational basis, notions like equality are not removed, but are given fertile soil to have an expanded meaning rather than stunting possibility.
© David Teachout