A long time ago, I sat in the Parker House Hotel having lunch with a family friend. We were young then, just starting out. I was in Boston to check out a social program that my organization was thinking of replicating. I had added a few vacation days to my trip to visit the city and hang out with some friends. Robby had just finished law school and was spending the summer with some high powered law firm. That fall he headed off to Oxford.
As we enjoyed our kiwi flan (there is a time stamp for you), we noted the irony of eating in this fancy restaurant while, for most of our lives, our had fathers co-owned a greasy-spoon diner where we were occassionally forced to eat. It was just one of their many business ventures. The bulk of our conversation centered around the debate of liberty versus equality. He argued liberty. I took the side of equality. I was treading water most of the time, trying to keep up, and as I look back, I think I held my own.
At different times in my life, our debate of liberty/equality and the priceless memory of our lunch have come to mind. For Robby, it has been a central theme in his academic work. To some extent it has been central to my career in the third sector, designing programs to lift people out of poverty. As I have gotten older, I understand how difficult a balance it is to protect either construct much less both, simultaneously. I will always advocate for equal protection under the law, attempts at leveling the playing field to afford equal opportunity to education and jobs, and a sharing of our wealth to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. I will always cherish liberty as well. The freedom to one’s own religion or the freedom to have no religion, the freedom of expression and the personal freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Life has also tought me that it ain’t fair. You have to work hard and take advantage of opportunities if and where you find them. If you don’t others will. That’s a law of nature. So for me they exist together.
As political administrations change, the liberty/equality debate comes forward again. Now we have more platforms for discussion such as social media. Sometimes on social media one is drawn into conversations where an idea is posted suggesting conversation. Recently I responded to one that had a liberty/equality theme with what I thought was a supportive alternative to their idea and was quickly ambushed by all sorts of nastiness. Hiding behind their LED screens that night, the cyper-bullies dissected and bisected every phrase, each word, So my take away from my exercise of free speech is to be ready for a fight. They are ready to add a new orifice to your body. Haters (and they are on both sides of the political fence) are lurking in the cyberspace ready to tear you apart if you don’t say exactly what they want to hear. So, I am not sure that it is the appropriate venue for intelligent discourse.
It is sad that we have devolved into such a negative, distant place. While Robby and my Dad were in business together for over 60 years and were best of friends, they had different beliefs. Never did those differences influence the respect they had for one another. Robby and I do not share similar views on many topics, but we do continue to discuss them for time to time. We as a country and a global community have to learn to do more of that. Less hate, more understanding of one another, less blaming. Let’s make it a win-win game.
The ebb and flow of the liberty and equality debate is constant. As we advocate for one side or the other, come from a place of love and respect.