Isn’t it funny how, when you start to focus on one thing, more of it seems to come? When you’re pregnant, all you see are other pregnant women. When you’re lusting after a particular car, everyone but you seems to have one. When you’re irritated by something, you’re met with it everywhere! It’s known as the Baader-Meinhof effect or “frequency illusion”. For me lately, it’s been the difference between fairness and equality – the comparisons, the divisions, when it’s helpful and when it’s not.
It seems we spend much of our time shouting about equality across different platforms. Why can’t we all be treated equally? Earn equally? Be privileged equally? We lord equality like it’s the solution to the world’s evils, except that when we apply equality across the board, it doesn’t work either.
Albert Einstein famously quoted that “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” When we use standardised testing in schools, is it fair to all children? Do all children learn and express knowledge in the same way? No.
If we evaluate an ailing business’s employees by equal metrics to determine what their intrinsic value to the business is, we may end up disposing of vital components simply because their worth doesn’t fit a defined metric, thereby collapsing the business anyway. Understanding equality to be fair is an overly simplistic way of considering things. We are often tripped up by wanting to do things fast or “efficiently” and not allowing for important human intricacies that prove incredibly valuable.
I have spoken much about the beauty of our individual gifts. Audre Lorde said “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” I’ll say again what I’ve said before: if you are the same as any other team mate, one of you is not necessary.
So equality works in some arenas (e.g. people should be rewarded equally for equal effort), but it doesn’t allow for our individuality and therefore can’t be considered fair in all arenas. Without our individuality, we can’t bring all our gifts to the table and be appreciated for them, and we can’t be a powerhouse team.
So is fairness what we’re after sometimes, rather than equality? Fairness allows for the variables of our humanness. It acknowledges that a current situation may be different for one person than the next and that those differences need to be taken into account. When we add fairness to equality, we must consider that not everyone is starting from the same place and therefore not everyone has an equal stab at being successful. Fairness considers what is needed to level the playing field.
Whatever it is that differentiates us can be a beautiful, strong contribution in some ways and yet, we often take what differentiates people and use it against them to stunt them. We turn people’s gifts into deficits and then send them out into the world believing that. We can no longer adjust our systems to cater for the majority and call it fair. That would be like holding a United Nations meeting only in English without those translation headsets we’re so used to seeing many wear – and then expecting them all to contribute equally to a positive and productive outcome!
When we start to consider our differences as gifts to be explored, it becomes easier to embrace and allow for them. Whilst we consider our differences as stumbling blocks we’re fearful to address and incorporate, we will continue to create playing fields that aren’t flat. When we celebrate the diversity we bring, we can find ways to use that diversity to educate ourselves and expand our perspectives.
Think of a classroom of children. 20 years ago, we were all taught the same, resulting in many of our lives being governed by whether we had caring, passionate teachers or teachers who towed a more standard line or worse. Their passion or lack thereof defined which subjects we excelled at or failed in, and therefore who we went on to be – rather than our experiences being shaped by the exponential growth of our own gifts. Today, teaching is designed more towards allowing each individual child to be able to absorb what’s taught and express it again through their own strengths. We allow for children who learn better through sight or auditory reasoning. We allow more time in exams for children with deficits. We celebrate their differences more as per Albert Einstein’s quote, allowing each child the opportunity to blossom into who they are designed to be.
Why can’t and don’t we do the same thing in our teams? In our families?
Oprah Winfrey said “We live in a world that is quick to define and label people but rarely takes time to uncover the hidden greatness in all of us. We are all not smooth speaking, charismatic types but that does not mean we have no usefulness. Some of the most quiet and unassuming people throughout history have led lives of incredible dignity and impact across all spheres of life.”
When was the last time you dug out someone unseen and celebrated them? Is it equality or fairness you’re looking for in any given situation – when are they the same and when are they different? When was the last time you called someone up just to thank them and appreciate them? What step can you take this week towards ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity for success? Have you equipped all your team members equally to do their jobs? And if you have, have you ensured they are all starting from the same point of capability and can make use of the tools you’ve equipped them with? If they’re not, how can you help?
by Christen Killick
April 8th, 2019