Last night I did something I have never done before – I was reading in public from a chapter I have written in a book. Titled ‘Working for Equality’, it explores the challenges of in/equality. The book, part of the “Postcards from Scotland”, a series of short books developed by author and CEO of the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing Carol Craig, consists of 24 short chapters unpacking different perspectives on what is meant by equality.
The book grew from a series of conversations I was privileged to be a part of, facilitated by University of Edinburgh’s Academy of Government. A diverse group of people, from business, public and charity sectors grappled over 6 day long meetings, throughout a year, with the idea of equality. For some it was not a material definition, although it has material aspects, but instead being about our opportunity to flourish, which has huge challenges when translating into policy and legislation. We explored the idea of taking a human rights approach to equality – everyone has a right to a home, work, family life, education etc. against who is responsible for making sure this happens, and who is held to account when it does not. These were just two of the many debates we explored – discovering the idea of defining what equality is doesn’t come easily.
Sometimes an answer is not possible but it’s still important to ask the question and to work through the possibilities. Truth has many faces. I don’t mean the nonsense about so called ‘fake news’ peddled by the dangerous fool in the White House. He wouldn’t know the truth if it smacked him in the face. I mean the same event will have different meanings to those involved. I mean one person’s challenge is another person’s opportunity. I mean one person’s victory is someone else’s loss. I mean one person’s objectivity is someone else’s bias.
When it comes to what makes for a society where equality flourishes, there really is no one true definition. There might be some principles: people can feel they matter, they are valued, they can be true to themselves, we do no harm, and we have the opportunity to do what it takes to feel fulfilment. Each of those things will be made manifest in different ways for each of us, yet can still be true reflections of the same thing.
There’s an old story of an international aid worker who found a fisherman sunbathing. He said to him: “Why are you not fishing?” The fisherman said: “Because I have caught enough fish for today.” The aid worker said: “But surely if you went out again you could catch more and sell them.” “Why would I do that?” said the fisherman. “So you can make more money,” said the aid worker. “And why would I do that?” said the fisherman. “So that you can become rich,” said the aid worker. “Why would I do that?” said the fisherman. “So you can make enough money to retire early,” said the aid worker. “Why would I do that?” said the fisherman. “So you can take it easy all day and lie in the sun,” said the aid worker. “Am I not doing that already?” said the fisherman……
The principle of equality runs through all we do at Cyrenians – but the definition of what it means to feel an equal part in our society must, if we are to be true to our way of working, lie not in our hands but in the lives and the choices of those we journey with. In their choices lies the true definition of equality, for only they know the truth from their perspective.
3rd November 2017