There’s been a lot of talk about rights lately. While it is important that our governing system acknowledges people as equally valuable both in need and contribution to our society, this kind of talk often misses a vital point. If we rely on a political governing system to represent us, it will never create a society that fairly distributes rights. Especially if our governing system is a competition. A divided people will never produce representation that will lead them to shared ownership. As soon as one side “wins,” the balance of equality tips. The other side blames. Battle ensues until the other side wins and it tips the other way. The process is never going to fix itself.
But, fortunately, it’s not about rights and blaming isn’t helping. Our culture is much more than our government or the laws of the land. People are not adequately defined by their tax returns, their neighborhood, skin, gender, education or any other unique attribute, circumstance or experience, whether positive or negative. A checklist or a category is a disrespectful simplification.
Yes, the poor, oppressed and marginalized should be fairly represented by the law. Yes - they should. And the rich, unoppressed and mainstream should as well. So should everyone in between. The law, however, is a blunt force that only achieves its needed sophistication when applied by people with intimately connected stories. It can’t replace relationship.
The question is: what are we trying to accomplish and how do we get there? Because it’s not equal rights. We are not equal. Our rights are imaginary creations. What would it be like if we actually achieved it; if every person was treated in exactly the same way? Completely and perfectly equal. Everyone had the same amount of money, health care coverage, living space, grass (as in, lawns), education, working conditions, children, etc. It would be a “perfect” existence and we would be miserable, bored and still dying.
We don’t want equal rights, we want to matter and be part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to be respected and appreciated for who we are - without pretense.
Every human wants and deserves to be honored for their unique contribution to those around them. We all have that capacity - no matter what our current condition. Humans can only fully express their vital role in a social context. Only. Outside of a collective, a human is very limited in their experience and expression of value. We are not meant to be alone.
Our current social condition leaves a lot of people feeling unvalued and left out. Their voice is unheard, their needs are unmet and their contribution is unappreciated. But this is not a new condition. Our society, most societies in fact, have been that way around the globe and throughout history. Sometimes it’s more obvious than others. Or sometimes we are more fooled and lulled than others. Right now, it’s right in our face.
As much as being divided bothers me, there is one benefit. When our division gets blatant and causes us pain, we respond to it instead of pretending we’re unified. We have an opportunity right now, due to our acute awareness, to do something about it. Rather than yell at each other about whose rights are being violated, let’s acknowledge each other’s value and repair our relationships.
Alfred Adler was a brilliant psychologist during the beginning of the last century. He explained our need for horizontal rather than vertical relationships. Everyone is worthy of dignity and respect and it’s up to us to offer it. We’re putting too much power and placing too much blame in the hands of those at the top of the hierarchy. If we want to feel valued and connected, we need to value and connect. We need to share stories by living in them (not just “liking” them or retweeting them). We need to put on other’s shoes and walk a mile or two.
Jim Collins, in his book, “Good to Great” describes the most influential kind of leader (he calls them a level 5 leader) as one with fierce resolve and humility. That’s not a position, it’s character.
Battle Ground, Washington is named after a battle between radically opposed perspectives in which both sides won because cooperation and humility were imposed upon power and oppression. That’s our legacy. It’s the setting for our plot.
Horizontal relationships between people with fierce resolve and humility can produce a relationally connected culture where every human is vital. Horizontal relationships produce life.
Vertical relationships where those with power dole out rights will only lead to extreme inequality, blaming and divisive revolution.
Let’s do it horizontal.
I write semi-regularly about belonging, storytelling, community building,