We’ve always organized ourselves into categories and levels
All animals establish some kind of hierarchy among their peers and thus create some kind of social order. Human beings are no different: we’ve always organized ourselves into categories and levels: rich and poor, working and unemployed, men and women, masters and servants. After so many thousands of years, though, one would expect humankind to have evolved beyond that. How sad that we haven’t! We still need to maintain those divisions and most of us obsessively strive to be in the ranks of the powerful ones, the masters, the dominating side of the equation. Still today, we are often taught that we must try and belong there. We are told that the wealthy, the powerful, the governing ones are better than others and that all efforts to be one of them are worth the struggle. We then grow up believing that governing is either our duty or our right.
We don’t need to look far to find examples of discrimination, abuse or even slavery or oppression
After two world wars and uncountable smaller ones, some groups of people in different societies tried to change some of the categories, like master-slave or men-women. For example, almost 75 years ago millions of people felt some hope for humanity, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established and signed by most members of the United Nations back then. What a big majority of people don’t actually know even today is that the Declaration is not binding and that it doesn’t have any legal weight on governments or peoples. After 1948, other treaties were established and signed by different countries, treaties that do carry a heavier legal weight and are binding. There are two specific treaties, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which, together with the Declaration, are known as the International Bill of Human Rights, that were also approved by the United Nations after the Second World War and signed by different countries. In both covenants, the first article is FREEDOM FROM DISCRIMINATION and the second one RIGHT TO EQUALITY BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN, which would mean no hierarchical distinctions whatsoever. Unfortunately, we all know that that is not the case in almost every single country in the world. Although our highest political powers sign documents that are supposed to guarantee a different approach and a smaller number of levels in the social ladder, the truth is that for millions of human beings those levels are as vibrant and strong as in the past. We don’t need to look far to find examples of discrimination, abuse or even slavery and oppression, do we?
The number of believers doesn’t make a belief any truer
You see, everything is related. When societies believe that some people have the right to dominate others just because they belong to a certain group, equality, equity and justice are simply incompatible. The fact that such a notion can be widespread and supported by many only proves that such a society is mostly unfair and unjust. It also perpetuates the belief. If others in my surroundings think the way I do, I feel validated and my beliefs are confirmed. If most of the people in my environment believe what I believe, I often have no reason to doubt my opinions, which is an absolute fallacy, as the number of believers doesn’t make a belief any truer. For the longest time, people were convinced that the Earth was flat. It took great effort and a lot of time to have the majority of people change that one belief.
Feeling superior to others just because our society tells us that we are better than them should not be reason enough to actually believe it, either. One good example of that is how beliefs evolved in the history of the United States, where many thought that colored people were infra-human for many years. Some actually believed that black persons had no intellectual capacity whatsoever. Gosh, were they proven wrong! Or let’s also take women… for centuries considered the lesser humans. Men historically yielded their power over them, considering them inferior and at their service. Sadly, there are still millions of men in the world who still believe that and treat women accordingly!
Society needs to help its members question their beliefs
Society needs to help its members question their beliefs, which usually requires some kind of leader or leaders to start presenting alternative views and questioning old ones. That’s what happened in those instances in history in which changes were achieved, like the suffragettes and women’s rights in some European states or Mandela or Gandhi in their respective countries. I believe that is also what we are currently witnessing in countries like Iran. Without those leaders, no established belief is undermined and things just go on as before. This doesn’t mean that leaders need violence to open people’s eyes, as we’ve seen in some outstanding cases throughout history, but somebody needs to start questioning the status quo.
In order to change a well-established cultural belief, people first need to be aware that they have it. That is what those leaders do, they make society realize that they have a certain belief and that others could also be possible and valid. Obviously, opposition always exists, as any belief that is questioned causes insecurity and uncertainty and people resent that. They feel comfortable and secure in their beliefs, and doubting them is usually nobody’s priority. Once the new perspective enters a person’s mind, though, the foundations of the old belief can start feeling a bit weaker and that’s all it takes. Some will need more reassurance and proof while others, whose roots perhaps were not that strong, might embrace the change at greater speed.
There is something that does help in this process, something that also helped establish the original limiting belief: repetition. If more people in a given society start questioning the old patterns and supporting the new ones, the faster the change will be. That is why it is important to speak up and express support for a fairer and juster society. The more voices, the bigger the doubt. Let’s not fool ourselves, though, as those with the strongest beliefs will fight the new approach with all their might, feeling threatened and insecure. This is at the root of all wars and many acts of violence and the real reason why change is so difficult. The balance needs to be tilted one way or the other and voicing support for fairness, justice, equity and equality is what we, as a society, can do. I, for one, have made my views public many times, expressing my believe in a society without so many labels, a society in which the human being comes before any classifications or levels, a society in which everybody is valued and respected just because they are part of the human species. I can not accept any discrimination whatsoever because I can not consider myself better than anybody else. We are all born equal, with nothing but our humanity. And that humanity should make us all unique and valuable beings in the eyes of others.