“I’m fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” Winston Churchill

While it will never win friends or influence people if you refer to them as pigs, the wisdom behind Churchill’s statement seems sound. There seems to be something affirming, something uplifting about being treated as an equal, and in treating others as equals. For heaven’s sake, it’s in our U.S. Constitution- “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

When our kids were growing up, and were old enough to argue back and complain about their siblings, we used to here things like this- “You didn’t make Nathan clean his room! You let Erin stay out past 10 when she was my age! How come Benjamin gets a mini fridge in his room… he’s 9 years old!?” Rather that try to argue with each child about the wisdom of their parents, how incredibly fair and consistent we were, we simply adopted a simple response that fit every situation. Whenever they complained and compared, we simply said, “We only have enough love for one child per week, and it’s not your week!” For some reason that didn’t go over well?

Maybe “NEVER” is too Strong a Word

Obviously we ought to treat EVERYONE with human decency, unless you happen to be Patrick Swayze in the movie “Roadhouse”. His advice was simple. “I want you to be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.” We would love to believe that everyone shares our core values of kindness, empathy, honesty and respect. That just is not the case in this complex world we live in. Pedophiles ruin the lives of children, and terrorists kill and maim the innocent. Sometimes they simply do not get the same response or treatment that is meted out to the student skipping class or the slow driver in the left hand lane of traffic. So how do we decide when it is OK to treat people “unequally”?

Principles for Treating People Unequally

  1. You May Have to Treat People Unequally When the Circumstances are Extreme- We ought to give out measured and even responses for those situations we would not consider the extreme or worst case scenarios. Get caught speeding, then you get a ticket, whether you own the local deli or you happen to be the mayor. Equal treatment under the law is one of the foundational principles of this great nation. So yes, “NEVER” treat people might be painting with a really broad brush. War is brutal, evil is real. Sexual harassment an illegal behavior must have a zero tolerance policy applied. Sometimes harsh circumstances call for direct and even harsher consequences.
  2. You Ought to Treat People Unequally When They Have Earned It– This may hit you wrong, but I have never ascribed to the principle that all employees ought to be treated equally. The new employee of less than 6 months may be doing a fantastic job. However, the employee who has led a team, weathered several serious crises with success, and proven their integrity and wisdom has earned the right to be treated differently, not equally to the newbie. The proven employee has a well deserved place to have their ideas given more merit, their project development more flexibility and their overall trust level is obviously going to be higher. The old saying goes this way, “Respect is earned, Honesty is appreciated, Trust is gained & Loyalty is returned.” My staff has heard me say this time and again- “I don’t treat people equally… I treat them fairly.”
  3. Stay Golden, Ponyboy- So how can we decide which circumstance or scenario calls for Equality, and which calls for Fairness? It really is as simple as the Golden Rule. You remember the Golden Rule, from the Bible? It’s recorded in the 6th Chapter of Matthew, as a part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:31 Jesus simply states, “Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.” That’s it. Really pretty profound. Now, this advice doesn’t work if you are a sociopath or a mental deviant obviously. But for the rest of us who believe in doing the RIGHT THING, those of us who are the “Sorta Normals” in society, the call to act is to simply reverse the roles. * Would it be right for you to be held accountable for a major failure? Then hold them accountable. * Would you want a second chance or a measure of grace in the same situation? Then offer one to them. * Would you expect to be given a higher level of trust, leadership, responsibility or freedom if you had been a successful and dependable team member? The offer the same to your best team members! Would you be offended if the newbies had the same level of input and directive influence that you did, if you had already proven time and again your worth? Then don’t get your panties in a wad when someone has earned their level of trust, and you’re still working on yours.

Haters Gonna Hate

There are always gonna be those who don’t agree with me on this philosophy of life and leadership, and that’s just fine with me. You do you. I’ll do me. My only encouragement is to consider the possibility that this crazy world is far to complex and yes even insane at times to treat every person, every situation and every circumstance equally. Be wiser than someone who does think that way.

And by the way, the 9 year old asked for a mini fridge for Christmas… and he got it. We stopped short at the request for a mini recliner and his own TV… because, well… it wouldn’t have been fair!