Sandra Massey, Research Program Coordinator

As a child I was taught that God created each of us as unique individuals and that there was no one else exactly like me in all the world. This made me feel special but I was also to understand everyone around me was special too, in the eyes of God at any rate. As an adult I came to understand that all things being equal did not mean that all things were the same. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word equal in two ways: the same in number, size, value, degree, rank, musical pitch, etc. and be equal to (person, thing, in quality, number, etc.; twice three equals six); do something equal to (feat, etc.). The references to quality and value in these definitions suggests determining whether different things are equal depends on a subjective interpretation. When equal does not mean the same, how do individuals and groups determine what equality looks like.

In their book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2011) provide evidence that demonstrates more equal societies do better on a number of social issues including: women’s status, metal health, chronic stress, obesity, education, teenage parenting, crime, bullying, imprisonment rates, and social mobility. Wilkinson and Pickett suggest that these issues can be summed up in terms of our relationships with each other. As they note, “Inequality, not surprisingly, is a powerful social divider, perhaps because we all tend to use differences in living standards as markers of status differences. We tend to choose our friends from among our near equals and have little to do with those much richer or much poorer. And when we have less to do with other kinds of people, it’s harder for us to trust them.”  Trust is essential to building relationships on any level and relates specifically to the quality of life we enjoy in terms of health and wellbeing and citizenship and social cohesion. Wilkinson and Pickett also note, “changes in inequality and trust go together... ”

If we are to build a shared future we must also ensure a much greater understanding of Living Heritage; the values, beliefs and ways of living that shape and inform our individual and collective choices; our own and that of others. It takes courage and confidence; in fact without a strong sense of identity, belonging and place, new ideas are likely to be dismissed outright.

Only when we are willing to question our own assumptions are we able to consider another’s point of view; from there we can explore options and opportunities. Easier said than done of course because Living Heritage is so often revealed in what we take for granted.  It requires a safe environment or meeting place and a considerable amount of trust in others. Community development work of this nature and scope must be intergenerational, cross-cultural and multi-sectoral not to mention ongoing. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that we must learn to work together to address the growing social issues of our times. We must as the saying goes, “think globally and act locally.” Moreover, at a recent Heritage Forum, the keynote speaker, Neal Kewistep suggested that if we deny our cultural differences we are essentially denying what makes each of us unique and therefore equal.

Reference:

Wilkinson, Richard and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011.