If equality means sameness then any experience that testifies to real differences between persons would be an attack upon whichever person is more inclined to victimization. In this context meaning of discrimination to differentiate, becomes a prejudicial act of condemnation on the other person. The neutral act of recognizing a distinction between persons becomes a violent attack of the other person in all instances.
– to recognize a distinction or differentiate between things or persons.
– to make an unjust or prejudicial distinction in the treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, sex, age, or disability. The second definition naturally flows from the first.
To illustrate my point I would like to begin with the assumption that, we live in a world with an overabundance entitled individuals. For much of their lives many have been told that they are special or that they are better than others. Perhaps their goodness is better than others’ goodness or maybe their suffering is worse than others’ suffering resulting in a complex of arrogance or victimization as a large part of their identity. When such a person encounters adversity, their world usually begins to crumble as they focus on the differences between others and themselves and realize that they are just like everyone else. Ironically, when their unique status is taken away or threatened and they risk being labeled as “the same” as everyone else cries of: “discrimination”, “bigotry”, “inequality”,“hatred”, and “civil rights” are taken up by the “persecuted victims.” As they begin to experience the world as it really is — contrary to their imagined world — the incongruity causes deep suffering, pain, and a feeling of isolation. Often leading to internal questions of the person’s worth, identity and lovableness.
Why does this happen? Because when we are confronted with our own inadequacies in a comparative manner feelings of shame, guilt, and regret rise up and we think that “if only I had X like that person, then I would not have these sufferings/feelings” or “if I can do X, only then can I be happy.” I can rationalize that, “only X can make me happy” but if it does not reflect the created reality — that man is made for a happiness beyond created reality — then it is merely a delusion. An inclination to comparison can only lead one to less happiness as our differences with others increases. What is needed is a way to maintain the differences while at the same time overcome them.
So how should we respond to these unhealthy concepts of equality and discrimination? Gratitude. Positive Psychology tells us that questions like “If you could give thanks or credit to someone in your past that you have not given enough thanks or credit to, who would it be? And why would you give thanks for them?” when shared and discussed with others, force us to depend on someone besides ourselves. Thinking about someone who you need to thank because of the value they brought to your life is a fundamental orientation to otherness and a recognition that you are not perfect. So the answers to the questions are not important, in fact, it is okay to not have an answers. Because the goal is to look at another person, recognize their goodness in your life, to rejoice in them as good in themselves, and to bring others to that recognition.
The result is that the differences which are present become unimportant and the shared experience and union of persons in vulnerability, intimacy, and gratitude is made a part of the negative memory, beginning its transformation. A persons personality is formed from their life experiences — some more than others — and it is the unique experiences that make for the uniqueness of the individual’s personality and the person himself.
Inviting others into the vulnerability of my unique formative past experiences — as I search for things to be grateful for — unites us in my unique experience while maintaining our differences. Their presence during the processing of the memory leads to destigmatization of negative memories and joyful savoring of positive memories. The shared experience has the further potentiality to integrate the negative memory into a part of my story in a positive light.
Here is where real internal growth occurs. The evil of suffering a bad experience and the shame of sharing with another opens the person to see that there is hope for change and that they possess the self-efficacy to bring it about. It is easy to focus on the negative because life could always be worse — you could be dead. Learning to find gratitude — even in suffering — is what makes possible long-term happiness. It also leads to deeper intimacy between those sharing their memories and working through them.
Now let’s take the essential principles from above and look at them in the light of Salvation History. The differences between man and God: eternity-mortality, infinity-finity, perfection-sin, etc. are overcome by God’s love for man. Though he knows every time we have failed him, he rejoices in our goodness. His gratitude for us is made manifest in the union of Divine and human natures in the Incarnation of his Son. He enters into every human aspect of suffering and death, though it is not necessary for him. He enters into the suffering, shame, gult, and rejection felt by us in our negative memories. He speaks the truth of his love and presence in the midst of our suffering. By the power of the Holy Spirit – in the sacraments of Baptism and Communion – we share in the Divine Nature as sons and daughters of God.
Man was made for communion with others. His nature is oriented naturally to interpersonal relationships. The primary relationship in order of causation and in order of being is his relationship with God. The possibility of this was destroyed by original sin. The response to this infinite difference was not a series of laws and declarations that somehow gave us equality with God. The Law could not bring salvation Paul tells us. Rather God — out of gratuitous love for the goodness of his creation — united himself to man in the incarnation and suffered the effects of sin and death (man’s punishment for disobedience) to free man from his punishment. He then allowed for man – by the power of the Holys Spirit in the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist – to share in his Divine Nature and to become his sons and daughters. The response to discrimination, comparison, and false equality then ought to be a union of thanksgiving — a Eucharistic communion of persons.
In our imitation of Christ we should recognize the differences between ourselves and others. Then we should seek to enter into their sufferings, negative experiences, and feelings of rejection to build rapport; with the goal of cultivating gratitude in ourselves for them as they are, and gratitude in them for the gifts that have been bestowed upon them as unique sons and daughters of God. Equality, then, is not based on some natural common denominator among men, but rather on a maximum quality that is shared. Our equality flows from our equal relationships with God, our dependence on him, and our gratitude to him; our differences as individuals are maintained, but we are united as equals.
“The one born of God, knowing him, gives thanks, and in giving thanks he is free, and the power of the miracle of thanksgiving, as freedom and liberation, lies in the fact that it makes the unequal equal: God and man, creature and Creator, servant and Master. And it is not the “equality” inspired in man by the devil, whose secret impulse is in envy, in hatred for everything that is above, holy and lofty, in a plebian repudiation of thanksgiving and worship, and therefore in a striving to make everything equal at the lowest point. Rather, it makes equal in that it knows man’s dependence on God, objectively indisputable and ontologically absolute, to be freedom… freedom of being sons of God.” Alexander Schmemann The Eucharist: Sacrament fo the Kingdom