Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When equality is no longer a word . . .

There are very few people in the lifetime, and in fact, in the history of our world, who make a difference long after they are gone. You know who these people are. Great names like Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King come to mind because these people made a difference to people. They were selfless. They lead with vision, not of themselves, but with a vision of the world. A place where we would have compassion for the poor, the hungry and destitute. A place where people make sacrifices for what is important. A place where equality is not just a word, but no longer a word.

Recently my daughter was studying stories of generations past who marched in the streets for peace, who fought in wars, and fought against wars, who cried when Martin Luther King died. Those people who fought those fights and thought those thoughts are likely no longer with us.

During those marches, people would cry out for equality, and it meant something tangible. The right to work. The right to eat in restaurants. The right to go to whatever schools one wanted. The right for personal freedom. The right to be treated . . . like an human being. The right not to be judged, marginalized, minimized or dehumanized by another. These are things worth fighting for still today.

Yet, at least in our part of the world, we no longer shout out words like equality and freedom in the streets. We have institutionalized the battle. Made it part of the corporate fabric of our making. And that's a step in the right direction, as long as it's not the last step. Corporations have the means and ability to provide training and opportunities that give people the means to enjoy freedom as we know it. Corporations create employment so people can have a better life.

We have achieved some enlightenment in the world. Corporations are expected to be "Good corporate citizens" who give money and time to the those who help the less fortunate. They make people development a priority. They teach, coach and mentor people to grow. They create an environment where people can grow and flourish. Good corporate citizens give of their time, money and resources to make the world around them a better place.

All the corporate capital and good will, however, can't change the world unless the individual engages in the change. That's you and me. People caring about others. People getting to know each other. People seeing past our visual or cultural differences and seeing each other as fellow human beings, sharing this life experience.

When you think about it, the word equality is only necessary in a state where it does not exist. And therein lies the question. Will we ever find a time in the world where equality is an ancient term?

And where are we in this continuum, almost 50 years after the riots and the cries for equality?

I asked my daughter what I often ask corporate types - what do you value? What do you care about enough that you would stand up for and stand up against others for? What matters to you that is beyond your own vision, but a vision for the world.

Equality was her answer. Where people are not judged for their gender, or lifestyle. Where people are free to discover the best they can be.

What a great and worthy quest. Imagine a place where equality is no longer quantified by targets on corporate scorecards. Where we no longer count the colors of skin around a table, as if tallying our level of tolerance, or intolerance. Where we can come face to face with a person and not see the difference first.

That she would say equality matters most to her does not surprise me. My daughters have been raised in a house of diversity and adversity. In my house, we have seen and suffered the effects of being turned down for a job because of another person's fear. We have lived with unemployment as a result of small minds. We all, as a result, have learned to keep the secret of our "diversity" to lessen the impact.

The funny thing is, we are not identifiable by race or by ethnicity. But we still experienced this, and continue to from time to time. I understand the quest for equality, but in the continuum, I would hope the ultimate goal is to achieve humanity where people are worth the effort regardless of who they are or where they come from. And I would say everyone deserves a chance to be bright, and to be brilliant. I would say that everyone is good and deserves a chance to prove it.

Listening to my daughters, and watching them, I hope that their generation does take our world to a more humane place than we have been. I hope that they care enough to do more than talk, but to lead, and demonstrate through their actions. I hope that they will take one step closer to that grand vision of a better place that our earthly leaders have shown us.

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