Adjusting your level

Who really wants to be equal?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” so “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”. Two great political movements were founded on the principle of the equality of man.  These principles establish an ideal.  However, the instincts of man, our inherent competitive nature, override that ideal.  We just can’t resist seeking the superior position over our fellow human beings. 

First we must note that the ideals of equality were stated in masculine terms, and women found themselves cut out and left to struggle for equal footing with men.  However, women may be equal to men in not being able to resist the urge to seek superiority and not equality.  I have talked to so many feminist who lay out in detail why women should not be considered equal to men in leadership ability but instead superior leaders to men.  Of course, I did think it was a bit extreme when I was sitting at the poker table with four lesbians and they laid out a conspiracy theory that the technology exists for successful perpetuation of the species with the complete elimination of males from the gene pool, but male dominated science is suppressing the technology to preserve their dominant position in society because women would wipe them out.  As intimidating as that was women were not the only ones provoked to struggle for a place of dominance in society. 

The ideal of equality was expressed in political statements but not put in place in regards to race.   The Declaration of Independence fueled the revolution but when the war was won and it came time to draw up the constitution provisions were made for the maintenance of Native Americans and blacks in slavery. (This was a case even though almost a quarter of those who fought in the continental army were black).   As a result to this day the sense of superiority is ingrained in a segment of white America.  I remember in college overhearing a white student in my biochemistry class saying, “The problem is that the university keeps letting these blacks and minorities in here when they don’t belong; they aren’t the quality students.  It is a tragedy when you have some n----- taking up a place that should better go to a qualified student.”  At the time I was astonished but over time I grew to accept that a sense of racial superiority was part of the white American ethos such that I was not surprised when the white supremacists came out in Charlottesville a couple of summers ago. 

Furthermore there is nothing more threatening to the sense of entitled superiority than the idea that someone of a different group might be superior.  I recall listening to a half-time speech given by a football coach in which he said, “We got all these black kids from the hood in Long Beach in shock that they are being beat by a bunch of white kids from Orange County [CA]”.  There were several problems with the statement: First it projected the anxiety that he had regarding potential superiority of black athletes (95% of the players on the Long Beach team were black) and his need to reassert superiority of his race.   The other problem with the statement was that it disregarded that some of the best performing members and highest contributors to the success of his team that day were the three black players which included my son Elliot.   In contrast I remember one athletic contest in which an all-white church league basketball team arranged a game against the sports league team of a predominantly black church’s sports ministry because they were convinced they would provide the best competition in the region.  Now when the kids from my church’s sport’s league won that game I was happy.  It was not because of any racial pride because the black kids won against the white kids proving any inherent superiority but because I knew the kids on the winning team from having taught them in AWANA and Raising Boys 101 and because I saw my son bust out this spin move to a from behind-the-back lay-up switching hands in mid-air to score a go-ahead point in what was one of the most athletic moves I had even seen him perform. 

I am not saying that I am above it all that I don’t sometimes get caught up in the need to assert my superiority.   I identify with what a black doctor friend of mine tells his son, “as a black person you have to work twice as hard and be twice as good before they [white people] will respect you.”   I have at times gotten caught up in trying to prove either my intellectual or physical superiority.  It is just one of those things we do as human beings in general regardless of race or gender. We like the reassurance of being better than or having more than the next person.   It goes back to something primal revealed in a joke: Two guys go hunting in the jungle. The first guy turns to the second and asks, “What do we do if we see a lion?”  The second man turns to the first and says, “I don’t know about you but I am going to take off running” to which the first guy exclaims, “YOU CAN’T OUTRUN A LION!”  But the second guy explains, “I don’t need to outrun the lion, I just need to outrun you.”  Thus the need to establish superiority is caught up in our need to feel secure that we will get the good jobs, that our children will get a good education and that we will be assured of equal pay and equal opportunity; it is survival instinct.

It takes a secure person to not grasp for superiority and instead seek equality.  Sometimes the best way to teach little children is to come down to their level and work alongside them as an equal trying to reason your way through a problem or sound out the words.  It is from a position of financial superiority that we donate money to the homeless.  It is a whole ‘nother level to go and show up and serve food and hand out clothing, but closer to equality would be to sit at the dinner table with them, converse with them and sleep under the same roof.   I say this as an ideal but I know having once tried to open my home to someone who was unhoused and treat their need as equal to my own that it was not a comfortable position.  At some point I told that person it is time for you to go fend for yourself because you are threatening my own ability provide a household for my family.  I truly admired a young woman on the bus who did not flinch or move when an alternatively housed urban survivalist without recent history of bathing sat next to her on the bus.  My eyes were watering and I was doing everything in my power to suppress my gag reflex from five feet away but this young woman refused to get up and move and insult this man’s dignity.  Clearly there was a disparity between them in economic status and hygiene.  I admit my general impulse would be to move away to avoid not only the odoriferous effusion from the man or any chance that people might associate me with him.  Thus I admired my friend Sharon who would volunteer to go work in the homeless shelters and do intake for people in such a state.  It would be so easy to stay home secure that you are far above the homeless, secure that by your superior education and economic status that you would never be one. 

The most beautiful thing is when people intentionally abandon the comfort of their own superiority to meet the needs of others.  This is the divine condescension of Jesus Christ: 

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7)

This is the story of Christmas that God found a way to come down to our level to meet our needs. On the day of his birth Jesus Christ was a homeless wanderer seeking shelter and lay in a manger a member of an oppressed nationality.

For more poignant essays see Derek's current book, "Days of Elijah" available in ebook form at


#equality #feminists #MeaningofChristmas #Justice

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