28/10/2019 | 22:35
Theory of Equality: The “Who” is More Important than the “What”
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I briefly mentioned my theory of equality last week, and I would like to clarify my views on equality this week. I am of the opinion, equality occurs when every individual’s fundamental humanity is respected in such a way all individuals possess freedom of choice. In other words, equality is not about enforced sameness but rather about shaping basic expectations based on need rather than subjective preferences. What that requires is a removal of all sense of entitlement and in order to accomplish that, there would need to be the removal of unearned privilege.
Let me give you an example.
In Japan, there is this assumption in English conversation schools, or eikaiwa, that Japan is a conservative society that values professional business attire. Although that may be true for some, it is not true for all. Conforming to societal expectations does not mean individuals all necessarily agree with or place value on those expectations. In my experience, many who attend English conversation classes tend to be seeking to escape Japanese societal expectations. Not all students are the stereotypical businessman looking for a promotion at work. There is an entertainment factor as well and within that is a desire to learn about and be inspired by foreign cultures. What that means is they are not looking for a doused down version of foreign culture but rather a true representation of what people in foreign countries are really like.
When I taught English to adults, I was very aware that the students I taught were shaping their perceptions of Canada and all Canadians on how I conducted myself as a Canadian, because I could have been the only Canadian they would ever meet. I felt that I had a very real responsibility to give my students a genuine look at what it means to be Canadian and part of that is reflecting Canadian societal norms with regards to clothing. But, dress codes in English conversation schools may demand misrepresentation when attempts are made to strike a compromise between foreign and Japanese professional expectations. This can be problematic due to the fact English teachers tend to be the sales product themselves. What that means is that Japanese gender bias and the tendency for boring dark suits can harm a teacher’s reputation, because foreign teachers are not supposed to act Japanese. If students wanted an English teacher to act more in accordance with Japanese expectations, they would simply hire a Japanese English teacher.
There can be a sense of entitlement among owners and managers of businesses around the world who may shape dress codes around what they want people to look like, rather than around what a business really requires. The sense of entitlement is based solely on those individuals’ holds on power usually due to wealth. That claim on power can lead some people to impose their will or their preferences on those below them even when it does not affect how one accomplishes the function of work. That is an instance of unearned privilege because personal preferences regarding appearance take priority over job responsibilities.
That is generally the established norm around the world. It is a norm, however, I personally disagree with because I feel authority is about increased responsibility, not about enforcing one’s world view on everyone else just because someone may have a bit more power or wealth. It is through increased responsibility one exercises rational judgments so to demonstrate responsible authority that can earn one increased respect. That kind of respect is earned and requires no one to force anyone to do anything. When authority is exploited so to carry out a personal objective based on bias, however, it compromises one’s integrity. To enforce something with no reasoning in terms of job function compromises the integrity of management and/or ownership. If clothing, as an example, is so important in terms of job function, then utilise a uniform. A uniform is ideal in those roles where employees need to be easily identifiable or the work itself requires safety precautions and so forth. But, those uniforms are for the business’ image so are a business expense since they are a cost of doing business. It is not the employee’s responsibility to carry a financial burden so to make a company look good. All the employee should be required to do is perform the job function in accordance with company guidelines so to fulfil the needs of the position.
My reasoning behind this idea is that people tend to be shallow and that leads many to judge on appearances. That choice to engage with others in that superficial manner, however, does not encourage people to look beyond the obvious and see people for who rather than what they are as human beings. And, those who choose to only see the “what” will never truly know what it is to respect humanity. A human being is not a gender, a skin colour or a business suit. A human being is a breathing and feeling individual with likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams. The “who” is far more important than the “what” because it is the “who” that will define us all in the end.
But, many employers, I feel, consider employees as things rather than human beings. In turn, that can affect the bottom-line due to its negative influence on employee morale. After many years of teaching both adults and children in Japanese English conversation schools, I saw first-hand how a person is clothed may bring someone in the door, but it does not keep them there. Maintaining student numbers always came down to personality and dedication to the students, not to a dress code. Personality and dedication won over the image of professionalism because imposed professionalism can make the teacher-student relationship feel fake. No student wants to feel like he or she is merely a job.
I found one example of a dress code policy for an English conversation school in Japan on-line. I have never worked for that school so I cannot comment on how it is enforced. For those who are interested, please click the links to see the dress code information:
Mens-Dress-Code-Sheet-1Download Womens-Dress-Code-Sheet-1Download There are two things I will point out about this specific dress code that strike me as pretty standard within most companies in Japan.
The first is that there are two dress codes as the dress codes for men and women are different. That is not surprising for many companies around the world, however, it is a sign of inequality due to a double standard. One’s humanity should come before one’s gender. What that means is that clothing is not specifically for males or females but rather merely clothing. Whether a woman wears a suit with a tie or a man wears a dress with high heels, it should not be relevant unless it affects job function. There only needs to be one dress code that has been shaped around the responsibilities of the position.
It all comes back to putting an individual’s humanity first. Never should a piece of cloth sewn together in a particular manner be considered more important than a human being. The human being needs to be the priority so to demonstrate respect for that individual’s humanity. To place more value on the clothing is to place less value on the humanity of the person wearing it and those kinds of shallow perceptions lead to inequality. Things cannot be more important than people if equality exists. That is why I feel job function should always determine dress codes, not subjective perceptions.
The second thing I would like to point out about the dress code are the comments about tattoos, which are pretty standard in Japan.
Tattoos must be concealed at all times in the presence of students.
https://www.aeonet.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Mens-Dress-Code-Sheet-1.pdf Tattoos must be 100% covered at all times in the presence of students.
https://www.aeonet.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Womens-Dress-Code-Sheet-1.pdf I do not have a tattoo, but tattoos are great conversation starters. Despite the tendency for some in Japan to associate tattoos with criminality, I find it perplexing why it is that an English language school hiring foreign teachers would not want its teachers to share foreign cultural expectations with students. This is especially true if there is some important meaning behind the tattoo. The idea that foreign culture should be oppressed does not prepare Japanese students to actually utilise their English language skills in real life. I feel it is important to desensitise students to foreign versions of self-expression so to build a mutual understanding of cultures. Being able to look beyond cultural stereotypes and beyond one’s own culture permits individuals to more effectively communicate and build relationships, whether personal or professional. It is important for students to overcome fears of what is different in order to accomplish that.
Just recently, after the rugby championships in Japan, It was refreshing to come across an article in The Mainichi that reported some people in Japan being more open about perhaps allowing those with tattoos in Japanese bathhouses.
“We have to go beyond differences between countries and peoples,” said Shibukawa Mayor Tsutomu Takagi at an Oct. 11 news conference. “We want to respect Maori culture and customs. We urge hot spring inns and others here to understand their meaning,” he continued, calling on local bath operators to open their doors to foreigners with tattoos.
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20191024/p2a/00m/0na/018000c And, I feel that English language schools could have initiated those kinds of conversations decades ago and inspired more forward-thinking individuals in Japan to reflect on cultural differences. It is that kind of reflection that is required to overcome cultural differences in politics, business and personal situations. It is not that bathhouses should or should not permit those with tattoos. That is a decision for those who own bathhouses. What needed to happen a long time ago was merely the conversation. It is the conversation that has the most value, because it is that conversation that builds a genuine cultural understanding on both sides to better reflect an understanding of the humanity behind the cultures. The different opinions on the subject also demonstrate the spectrum of diverse individuals within a culture. To see the diversity of individuals within what may first appear as a homogenous society enables people to break down the stereotypes and recognise the humanity within the individuals. A person is no longer identified as merely a nationality or even by a given name but rather as a human being.
Individuals are never exactly the same and that is why equality is not achieved by striving to make everyone the same. Equality demands a respect for differences and not merely a desire for conformity. Conformity places demands on people rather than permitting them freedom of choice. In other words, those with the power make choices that can limit the freedoms of others. And those choices are not necessarily based on rational thinking but rather could be based on feelings of entitlement in terms of forcing their views on the world. That denotes a lack of respect for humanity because it is indicative of a lack of awareness about what others desire and what others may need so to evolve into better kinds of human beings on a personal level.
So, when I speak about equality, I feel it is the hypothetical ability of humanity to respect the human within the individual in such a way freedom of choice is maintained within the limits of responsibility as determined by the needs within a society. True equality would eliminate all discrimination because individuals would assess the who versus judge the what that defines each individual. It is not a current reality, but I feel that eventually it could be. Humanity needs to take a good, hard look at what it means to be human and value humanity in an effort to stop hurting others in the pursuit of personal gain.
It seems to me that learning about and helping one another is a better investment of a life than merely fighting with one another for a superficial grasp of what it means to be alive in terms of power and wealth. Power and wealth do not follow anyone beyond this life. I have a feeling, though, that the consequences of action and inaction just might.
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