• Thomas Jones

Equality or Equity?


Last fall I attended a Diversity and Social Equity virtual training program sponsored by a major university. The presentation featured two graphics, one labelled Equality and the other labelled Equity. The Equality graphic was a drawing of three people trying to peer over a solid wood fence to watch a baseball game. One person was tall, one medium height, and one short in stature. All three stood on the same long bench, which was high enough for the tall person but not high enough for the medium and short stature persons to see over the fence. The Equity graphic was the same, except that each person stood on a bench high enough for each to see over the fence. The tall person had a low bench, the medium stature person had a medium height bench, and the short person had a high bench.

I was struck by several aspects of this training program, especially that there was no discussion of the labelling of the two graphics. Was it simply assumed that all participants understood and agreed with the underlying implications? I interpreted the Equality graphic as suggesting that each person receives "equality under law" social and governmental support, with no guarantees regarding life outcomes. And I interpreted the Equity graphic as suggesting that each person receives the level of social and governmental support necessary to give them an equitable life outcome. I viewed these graphics as a choice between "equality of opportunity" or "equality of results". Am I over-interpreting these two graphics? Do you agree with their implied definitions of Equality and Equity?

This is important because it speaks to the heart of what kind of country America aspires to be. The founding principles of America were to ensure each person "...life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness...". America's core promise, although unfulfilled historically with regards to African Americans, has always been about opportunity. America never promised its citizens that we would be equally successful -- and to do so is an impossible task, in my opinion. There are many reasons why life outcomes are unequal, starting with God endowing each of us with different talents and capabilities, and followed closely by each of us choosing individually to exercise our free will to apply greater or lesser effort and diligence to cultivate and apply our talents and capabilities. My life experience has included knowing extraordinarily gifted people who lacked the discipline to achieve their full potential, and I have known less gifted people whose discipline and drive resulted in extraordinary achievements. Speaking figuratively, the short person in the graphic could be "short" of talent, or "short" of personal discipline, or "short" of work effort, or "short" of social skills, or "short" of any of many other intangible qualities which drive successful life achievements. My life experience has taught me that I cannot create successful life outcomes for others. I can help those who are committed to helping themselves, but that may or may not result in the life outcomes they seek.

What do you think Equality and Equity should mean in America?

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