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Treat everyone with equal regard

Clearly we cannot all be the same. People have different abilities and opportunities and may have legitimate authority over others. What this means is that, nevertheless, everyone should treat others with equal respect.

Equal is a difficult term. It has an exact binary meaning, either two things are equal or they are not. If we compare bags of flour what do we mean if we say that they are equal? Often it is that they weigh the same. But they could be unequal in other ways, e.g. the type of flour or how fine it is. So when we say two things are equal we need to be clear about what aspect of them is equal.

People are immensely complicated and if we compare two people there are many ways in which they could be equal, and in most other ways they will be different. Indeed we could say that the one way in which people could be said to be equal is that they are equally complicated.

This diversity is an important trait in people and of why we are successful as a species. If our environment becomes, say, too cold we do not die out as some species do, we put clothes on. Whatever problems we are faced with different people will come along with different abilities and ideas so that, collectively, we come up with good solutions. All individual people are valuable.

Some people focus on income and wealth as things that should be shared equally. But we have seen tat if we try to impose this other inequalities come out. We can end up, as George Orwell’s pigs put it: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

Instead, what this means, for example, is that if someone does something that we do not like we do not condemn them as a person, as being evil, a thug a low life or anything like that. Instead, while treating the person with respect, we try to decide, rationally, what is a good way of responding to what they have done.

If someone is appointed to make decisions in an organisation it does not make them a better person, their subordinates deserve equal respect. Regardless of race, colour or anything else that makes people different, everyone should be respected equally.

Reasons and excuses

It is important to make a distinction between the person and their behaviour.

If we could know enough, if we could be in someone’s shoes, we could always understand why someone does something. Often this has a lot to do with their circumstances and the actions of other people. This is about having empathy, though this can be difficult as it involves feeling what it would be like to be another person.

In general it can be argued that people only do what they feel like doing. Often that can work to some extent because an overwhelming feeling for many people is the need to conform. At other times it may be better for people to make rational choices, but that will only happen if they feel able to be rational.

On the other hand, a world in which people only act compulsively tends to go wrong. We need people to make rational choices and we hold people responsible for their choices.

In other words it is how people behave, their actions, that matter. So the maxim is to treat people with equal regard, to remember that there but for luck and fate go I, and to make our own choices as to how we respond.

So just because there are reasons that led to someone doing something bad, excusing them and not responding is not treating them with respect. It makes sense for them to be sanctioned in some way. But they are not a bad person, to be condemned indefinitely, they are someone who did something bad.

Updated 1st March 2022