One of the most important dynamics affecting families is that of equality. Whether you realize it or not, your home contains a sense of equality (or inequality!) within its walls. Specifically, every person within a given family is either going to feel perfectly equal to everyone else in that family, equal only to some, or feel no sense of equality to anyone else at all. It is an inescapable truth that each family has its own pecking order as well – whose word is considered final or most important, and whose has less perceived value than others’?
Now let me be clear: pecking order in a family is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many families I have worked with have struggled because there was little or no clear hierarchy within, and therefore no clear sense of behaviours that were allowable, nor behaviours that were unacceptable. When there is no respected authority setting limits everyone can accept, chaos is almost guaranteed to follow in a family. The difference between a healthy and unhealthy pecking order, therefore, comes from the statement about each family member’s inherent value that it can make.
Perhaps the most powerful statement a person can make to another is that the two of us are equal. This is a way of expressing the truth that nobody’s value as a person is any better or any worse than anyone else. You are an equal to Donald Trump, for example; while his talents and skill set may be much different from yours, his worth as a human being here on this planet is neither superior nor inferior to your own. This inherent equality applies similarly between you and Bill Gates, Indira Gandhi, the boy down the street, and every other person, past or present, regardless of fame or fortune. I remember middle school being one of the most humbling and oppressive experiences of my own life. For the first time, I was a member of a community where there was a widespread belief that some people were much more important, and as such immeasurably more valuable than others. Being on the “not-quite-so-equal” side of the scale, my own self-worth was hit hard, and it wasn’t until almost two decades later that I came to embrace the full depth of my own value, and in a way that was neither superior nor inferior to anyone else.
Along with parents, teachers are also on the front lines of seeing the evolution in each student of their own senses of worth and equality. As classroom resources are seldom becoming more plentiful in our society, teachers are being asked not only to help each young person learn how to read, write and succeed in Math, but to ensure each student has an equal opportunity to learn and become continually more aware their natural equality with every other person in that classroom.
The challenge is this: do we truly believe all people are equal? If so, are we prepared to have each interaction with another person reflect this ideal, regardless of the other person’s age, gender, or income level? If we choose to surround ourselves by people who believe in such equality, we are far more likely to carry this ideal with us into adulthood and share it with others. But interestingly enough, almost any person will respond to us in healthy ways, and be more willing to enjoy an authentic connection with us, if we treat them with all the respect that true equality brings. If we truly wish to enjoy this connection with young people, and be treated the way we ourselves would like to be treated, it is 100% essential.