Thoughtful Thursday: Equal
March 22, 2012
In the context of a trip back to the White House, Mel wrote about the contradiction between her Quaker leanings and being star-struck.
“I don’t believe in elevating people in importance any more than I believe in demeaning people (aren’t they just two sides of the same coin). Though sometimes I forget that and get all ga-ga, like… you know… being around people in the White House.”
DH is the biggest equal-treatment person I know. Once he was sitting in the waiting room of a company that was the partner of a company he was doing business with. A man walked up and started talking to him about a common interest. DH talked to him, the same way he’d talk to anyone. After a few minutes, they finished their conversation and the man walked away. Then the person DH had been dealing with at the company walked up. “Oh, you’ve met our CEO!” DH had no idea, but even if he had, he wouldn’t have acted any differently. If the janitor had approached DH and started a conversation instead of the CEO, DH would have responded exactly the same. Everyone is equal.
The flip side is that he does not have the deference to authority that most people have. This was particularly a problem when he was a kid… something about being kicked out of class for saying, “Who are you to tell me what to think? You’re not smarter than me.” Everyone is equal.
I, on the other hand, am acutely aware of status differences in my mind even though I try to treat everyone with respect in practice. I was raised by an Old World, Old Money mother who paid a lot of attention to class, status, background, etc. She was very nice to The Help, but she never forgot that they were The Help. She was tremendously gracious, though, to people with power — actually, a combination of gracious and deferent. Her whole demeanor changed.
I’d like to think I come across pretty similarly to everyone regardless of status or class or money, but I do treat people differently based on knowledge. Someone in my field gets a very different “What do you do?” explanation than someone outside my field. I respect the doctor’s advice more than the medical assistant’s. I offer more input about caring for Burrito and Tamale to college-student babysitters than I do to their teachers. I’m still nice to the people with less knowledge, but I am respectful of erudition and experience. I’m a knowledge snob; I readily admit it.
Burrito and Tamale are approaching the age where we have started giving them messages about how to treat people (so far, mostly along the lines of “be gentle”). To date, we have not delivered any messages about treating people differently based on status. It’s tough, though, because I do want them to heed their teachers’ instructions more than their peers’, because the teachers are probably right and because listening to toddlers’ (or kids’, or teens’) instructions will invariably get you in trouble. DH would never want them to call anyone Sir; I’d love to have people remark about them, “What a polite child!” DH and I agree, though, that regardless of how they act, we want them to feel comfortable around everyone. To feel equal. Never to feel like they’re below anyone, nor that they’re above anyone.
To what extent do you perceive status differences? To what extent do you act differently according to status?