I grew up in a small Middle American town and it seemed like there was always a lot of emphasis placed on social hierarchy. There was a lot of discussion about who was from “good” families and who was from “bad” families. People also seemed to struggle to elevate their station within that social structure. It seemed like people compared themselves to one another a lot. There was a great deal of concern about who was better than whom and why. People were ranked by the size of their homes, the clothes they wore, the type of car they drove, and on and on and on.
After college, I moved to larger cities. There seemed to be less of this – at least among my twenty-something friends. But it still existed based upon people’s ages and what types of jobs they had, clothes, cars, etc. It still existed within me, too. I found myself constantly comparing myself to others. Constantly wanting to do better, to be more, to “make something of myself.”
As I’ve gotten older – I’m in my mid-forties now, I’ve worked hard to shake off these types of feelings about myself and others. Now, I tend to gravitate towards or away from people based more on how strong of a connection I feel with them. I make an effort to decide whether or not I want to spend time with another person based upon the content of their character. I make a conscious effort to view all people as equal, despite all of the traditional markers I once thought I was supposed to use to measure people.
Recently, I started an interesting experiment. All day, every day, whenever I interacted with anyone I would say to myself “equal” as I looked at them. I would even picture the word EQUAL above their head. The results of my little experiment surprised me. I discovered that this practice caused me to slow down and take a deeper concern in people. Now, the server at the restaurant was not simply someone there to take my order and bring my food, but a whole person just like me who was equal to me in every way. They might be having a good day or a bad day. They have a full compliment of feelings and concerns, just like me. They are equal to me.
I found that the practice caused me to take more interest in people. I tended to engage them in more meaningful conversations. I wanted to get to know them a little bit, even if our time together was only temporary and maybe only to provide a service. My interactions were different. More thoughtful. deeper. More human.
Seeing people as equal to me has also been good for me in situations where the social hierarchy would place the other person above me. For example, with my boss or with respected members of the community. I’ve often found myself more at ease with them. I’m more apt to make a joke or tell a story. Again, to just be human with them.
This has been a healthy experiment. Letting go of social conventions and making an effort to see everyone as equal has not been the blow to my self esteem that I thought it might be. On the contrary, I have found that seeing everyone as equal has been healthy for my self esteem. If everyone is equal then I’m as good as anyone else. If everyone is equal then I can have more concern for everyone regardless of their class and when I care more about others I feel better about myself.
Do you view all people as equal to you? Do you view yourself as equal to all people? Maybe try my experiment and see how it changes the way you move through the world. Picture the word EQUAL hovering just above everyone’s heads and reflect upon how that changes the way you view them. Do it with everyone… the large person, the small person, the old person, the young person, and people of every skin color and style of dress. Everyone.
What if there was no social hierarchy? What if we all abandoned stacking ourselves up against one another? What if we truly treated all people with respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness? All people treating all people that way. It might truly transform the world.
Peace and good wishes to you always.