WE ARE ALL EQUAL
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed by the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
I am not a (Conservative, Orthodox, Reform . . .) Jew, (Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist . . .) Christian, (Sunni, Shiite . . .) Moslem, Hindu . . . I am a member of the human family.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal.
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood.
-UN Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt, Chairperson
Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
So what of all these titles, names, and races? They are mere worldly conventions.
All of us share being human. The concept of shared, or common, humanity is one of the great achievements of modern civilization.
Without goodwill, the idea of equality makes no sense. Without goodwill, it is obvious that we are not equal. It is goodwill that informs us that we are equal.
In the seventeenth century, when George Fox refused to doff his hat to his "superiors," equality was a concept that empowered entire lives. As Rufus Jones wrote of Fox, "The honor that belonged to God he would give to no man, and the honor that belonged to any man he gave to every man." (Rufus Jones, The Journal of George Fox (introduction) (New York: Capricorn Books, 1963), 39.) In the following passage Fox himself told of an incident before a judge who commanded him to remove his hat.
"Then got up a great rage among the professors and priests among us. They said, 'This people 'thou' and 'thee' all men without respect [refuse to use the plural form out of respect] and will not put off their hats nor bow the knee to any man. But we will see, when the assize [local court] comes, whether they will dare to 'thou' and 'thee' the judge and keep on their hats before him.' They expected we should be hanged at the assize.
"When we were brought into the court, we stood awhile with our hats on, and all was quiet. I was moved to say, 'Peace be amongst you.'
"'Why do you not put off your hats?' said the judge to us. We said nothing.
"'Put off your hats,' said the judge again. Still we said nothing. Then said the judge, 'I command you to put off your hats.'"
For his refusal, Fox was "taken away and thrust in among thieves." (Ibid., 245-246.)
A similar incident is told by James M. McPherson in an excerpt from a letter of a Civil War soldier: "We have tight rules over us, the order was read out in dress parade the other day that we all have to pull off our hats when we go to the colonel or general," wrote the private. "You know that is one thing I won't do. I would rather see him in hell before I would pull off my hat to any man, and they just as well shoot me at the start." (James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) 329.)
Cutting through the tangles of prestige and privilege to a concept of common humanity is a high undertaking. As Thomas Jefferson said, "All men are created equal," that is, no man is any other man's inferior, not inferior to people of wealth, people of power, people of intellect, people of talent, nor people of beauty. We share a common humanity, not only under the law, but also person to person. The truth of common humanity derives from the insight of compassion, that is, brotherhood, and it applies both to the self and to others. Behind the Bible injunction to do unto others as you would have them do unto you lies compassion.
One of the greatest of men, Abraham Lincoln, had a profound understanding of common humanity. When he visited Richmond just after the Union occupation, he was followed by a cordon of black people, one of whom fell on his knees in front of him. "Don't kneel to me," Lincoln said, "that is not right. You must kneel to God only and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter." (McPherson, 847.)
The false idea that some people, overall, are superior and others inferior is rampant in modern society. It seems to be fostered by almost everyone, both those who think themselves superior and those who think themselves inferior. Some part of the person is picked out and elevated to an overarching position. Talented people, for instance, see talent as making talented people superior. Rich people see riches, highly intelligent people see intelligence, beautiful people see beauty, macho men and highly feminine women see sexiness, industrious people see industry, people from old families see family background, creative people see creativity, people of strong character see character, clean people see cleanliness, ethnic people see country of origin, religious people see their religion, and amusing people see a sense of humor. Max Weber put it this way: "The fortunate is seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune." These people convince other people who are short on the characteristic that this is, indeed, the standard for superiority. If a person has several outstanding characteristics, he or she is all the more convincing. Someone like Queen Elizabeth, for instance, with a combination of great riches, prestige, and family background, is seen by many, including herself, no doubt, to be a superior person, overall.Shakespeare was onto this idea in his 91st sonnet:
Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their bodies' force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away and me most wretched make.
The assumption of superiority has a terrible history - kings and queens who believed - and convinced others - that great riches were their right, slavery in the United States, the caste system in India, Aryan superiority in Hitler's Germany, class distinctions around the world, the serf system in czarist Russia, religious groups that are owners of "the truth," and so on. This history is reason enough to abandon this terrible notion.
Treating others as equals is a natural outcome of goodwill. It is goodwill that says to us, "This man/woman is another human being. We share a common origin and a common destiny. Goodwill is what makes any one of us the best that we can be."Equal is life's greatest word. Not only are others equal to you, but you are equal to them, as well. When you are equal, you can't be inferior. Neither, it is true, can you be superior. You are neither. You are equal.