‘Equality’ is an oft discussed topic. But, how often do we practice it through our ‘feelings’, ‘thoughts’ and ‘actions’? I remember visiting the Pink Palace in Jaipur few years ago. We reached a staircase with no signage. We were not sure where it would lead to. I tried to check with a uniformed guard standing close by, he practically ignored us. Irritated by his behavior, we decided to turn back. At that moment, two tourists from a Western country walked in. To our surprise, the same guard folded his hands politely, said a namaste, welcomed them and asked them take the stairs to reach the paintings section. I was amazed, even after 6 decades of independence, this guard thought that someone with a white skin was superior to his fellow countrymen!
His actions clearly displayed inequality, he treated people differently based on the color of their skin. How about thoughts? If you find me treating a housekeeping person politely, can you assume that I consider her equal and hence treat her with respect? Probably not. I may be polite to someone much lower in social hierarchy, not because I truly believe in equality, but because I want to be ‘seen as someone who believes in equality’, someone who ‘treats all with respect’ etc. etc. I may be only living an ‘ideal social image’. One would have to watch my actions when I am under stress, when I am angry or upset to catch my true thoughts – that will get translated into undesirable actions in unguarded moments. For example, how do I behave with the same housekeeping person when she accidentally spills water over my brand new iphone. Or spills coconut water (whose stains are impossible to remove) on my expensive suit?
On the other hand, what happens while interacting with someone who is supposedly superior to us? It’s interesting to see the thoughts that tend to cross our mind. “Is he better qualified than me? Is he better looking, better groomed? Is he at a more senior position? Does he earn more? Does he live in a better place? Does he have a higher social standing? (Worse still) Is he in good books of the CEO?”
Needless to say, such thoughts act as a huge barrier to equality. Worse still, they negatively impact work place behavior. I remember a colleague who displayed contrasting behaviors that were difficult to believe, with different people. While working with his subordinates or junior employees, he would be aggressive, pushing others to accept his ideas come what may. He made it obvious that he was the one with experience, hence his ideas necessarily have to be the best. What a contrast he presented while interacting with someone senior. He listened attentively, treated every suggestion as an order, and rarely questioned anything suggested. The same aggressive man turned almost subservient with a senior. Such behaviors will kill innovation and will end up creating a dysfunctional work environment.
Behaviors like this emanate from deep down beliefs and thoughts. The only way for my colleague to change is to go deep into the beliefs and thoughts – see why he considers himself superior to some, and inferior to others. He can hope to change his actions only and only if he works on this thoughts. Which is not easy! Is it a surprise then that we are treated so differently by different people?