Equal in all directions

If we believe in equality for one, we must believe in equality for all. Remembering and acting on the belief that humans are equal in all directions should be a core part of all our actions, always.

“If you believe that humans are equal, they’re equal in all directions.”

This is such a simple, clear and beautiful definition of what a true belief in and commitment to diversity and inclusion should mean. These words are spoken by Stephen Fry* in the 100th episode of the Blank Podcast, hosted by Giles Paley-Phillips** and Jim Daly. If we believe in equality for one, we must believe in equality for all.

The air that we all breathe

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Fry talks about the mental health issues experienced by young people. Through speaking at schools as part of his work with the mental health charity Mind, he finds that self-harm is equally prevalent among children at elite schools as among those attending state schools in deprived areas. Fry says:

“The problem seems to be more systemic or more universally prevalent across the band of society and must have something to do with the air that we all breathe, the cultural air that we all breathe, rather than the specific toxins that are breathed in by those who are deprived in many other ways or have less life chance. It seems there is something in the entire culture that is making children’s lives very difficult. You have to fix what’s going wrong with children first, staunching the flow of blood as it were, so that there aren’t more generations that find life such a problem, such a difficulty.”

There is a huge job of work to be done to protect the mental health of today’s (and tomorrow’s) children. Fry wants to contribute to this work. He recognises both the good fortune that underpins his life and all lives, and the responsibility that comes with it:

“I can’t but think that it is a miracle and a wonder to be alive, and something that I should be very grateful for and happy about and celebrate where one can. And to think that for so many people it is not just a difficult life but an impossible and hateful one is something that we must all share some kind of responsibility for. Just as we can’t ignore pain and poverty, nor can we ignore sheer waves of pain and misery around us, it seems.”

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These words on the responsibility to help in whatever way we can truly resonate for me. As I wrote in my recent post Infinite good fortune:

“The beauty of the world in which we live can at times seem beyond belief. The infinite good fortune that has brought us here might sometimes feel overwhelming. But it comes with a responsibility to live up to it, to protect it as best we can and to appreciate and share all this wonder that has been gifted to us. We have an obligation to pay some of our infinite good fortune forward in any way we can, whenever we can.”

Fearless

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There is a huge job of work to be done to protect the equality of today’s (and tomorrow’s) children.

Remembering and acting on the belief that humans are equal in all directions should be a core part of all our actions, always. In these turbulent times, such beliefs must be actively supported, always. We can never assume that progress on diversity and inclusion issues will always show positive, forward momentum. Not everyone believes that humans are equal in all directions.

I remember feeling a chill when I read about the White House website updates that were made when Trump took office in January 2017. Trump’s team immediately removed “information on civil rights, climate change, LGBT rights, healthcare, immigration, education and the ‘Iran Deal’ among others”, according to a Guardian report from the time.

Cut to January 2021. Watching the live broadcast of President Biden’s inauguration, I found myself immediately, unexpectedly and uncontrollably weeping when Lady Gaga stepped up to sing the national anthem. These were tears of profound relief, a letting go of a tension and dread that I didn’t realise I had been carrying inside myself for so long. What moved me was the symbolism of seeing such a fearless proponent of the belief that humans are equal in all directions singing at a place where people who believed anything but had attempted a coup just a fortnight before.

The White House website was updated when Biden took office. These updates included the following Reuters reports: “People who identify as non-binary – neither male nor female – can now select the gender-neutral title ‘Mx’ on the White House website’s contact page, which also added a drop-down list of personal pronouns, including ‘they/them.'”

It remains to be seen whether wider-ranging action to support diversity and inclusion will be taken over these next four years, or if we are seeing a wave of feeling that will be reversed once again with the next swing of the electoral pendulum.

Seeing Gaga sing in front of the Capitol was nonetheless such a powerful sight, and such a breath of fresh air after all that we have witnessed over the past five years.

Commitment and endless reaffirmation

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Lady Gaga is a staunch believer in equality, in diversity and inclusion. “I have a message and will fight to the death for it”, says Gaga in a wonderful interview that Stephen Fry conducted with her in May 2011 for the Financial Times (entitled Lady Gaga takes tea with Mr Fry). Fry says of Gaga’s message:

“That message, ‘Find out who you are and be it,’ clearly means a great deal to her. Like any simple aphorism it can be made to sound naive or profound according to one’s point of view.”

Fry is convinced of the truth of Gaga’s commitment to equality. I suppose that Fry’s belief that humans are equal in all directions can also be made to sound naive or profound according to taste. For me, I have rarely heard truer or more timely words.

Our commitment to equality, to diversity and inclusion, should and must be endlessly reaffirmed.

If we believe in equality for one, we must believe in equality for all. Remembering and acting on the belief that humans are equal in all directions should be a core part of all our actions, always.

FOOTNOTES

* Stephen Fry has helped shaped my outlook on life and my love of words for more than 30 years. My post A Tweet from Sir: Of @StephenFry, Oscar Wilde and secrets celebrates what Stephen Fry means to me, and considers whether “the secret of life is in art”. If you seek a little literary treat, you could do no worse than to savour Fry’s three autobiographical tomes: Moab is My Washpot; The Fry Chronicles; and More Fool Me.

** To learn a little more about the lovely Giles Paley-Phillips, please read my 2019 interview, entitled Giles Paley-Phillips interview: Spread a little light. Giles’s latest book One Hundred and Fifty-Two Days comes highly recommended. And you can pre-order his upcoming book with Jim Daly Blank: Why it’s fine to falter and fail, and how to pick yourself up again ahead of its publication on 18 March 2021.

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