Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule. This is a core tenet of the monotheistic religions, the apex of fair and just treatment, right?
Wrong. Yesterday, I attended the 3rd annual Women Who Rock UNconference at Washington Hall in Seattle. A friend and I wandered in late and found our way upstairs to a discussion on the intersection of multiple personal identities. As in, I am white, I am a woman, I am Jewish, I am a feminist.
As I approached the conversation, the speaker asked everyone to switch their left shoe with that of someone else in the audience. Most complied. The speaker then used that as a metaphor to differentiate between equal treatment and equitable treatment. Yes, everyone was given a shoe. But some shoes fit, and others were too big or too small. Some people liked their shoes, and others felt uncomfortable. The solution to inequalities is not to treat everyone equally, with a one-size-fits-all approach, because we are not all equal. We are not all the same.
Then, the speaker suggested something so simple it blew my mind. Don’t treat others like you would want to be treated. Treat others like they want to be treated.
It’s as simple as that. And also as complex, because we are all individuals with unique needs that require thought, nuance, and understanding. That takes more time and effort than simply buying a bunch of shoes and hoping they fit.
This really resonated with me because I am at a time in my life when I need some help. Sometimes I feel like people hear me, understand me, and are able to help me. Other times I feel like they employ a one-size-fits-all approach that might help a generalized human, but not me specifically. And that generalized approach does not help. It does not help to ask me a lot of questions because sometimes I get nervous speaking, and when I am pressured I want to clam up even more. It does not help to encourage me to move back home because I am committed to staying in Seattle. It does not help to punish me without addressing why I acted wrongfully in the first place.
This sentiment was echoed by the wonderful keynote speaker, Nobuko Miyamoto, a performance artist who has been key in celebrating Japanese-American culture through music and song. With an intuitive understanding of the room, Nobuko first had us stand up, shake, and stretch before settling back into our comfortable folding chairs for her performance. I had minutes earlier escaped outside to stretch my legs in the sunshine and was happy to see it acknowledged that a lot of us have trouble with the passive sitting-still-and-paying-attention method of information exchange.
Nobuko shared with us her history and the rising of her political consciousness. From being sent to Japanese-American internment camps as a toddler at the onset of WWII to, despite her immense talent, not being cast in ballets because of her race to later passing as Puerto Rican in West Side Story, Nobuko has certainly lived a rich and storied life.
Nobuko was inspired into political action by the Vietnam War. She was working as a nightclub singer and realized that her brother could be drafted. She later got involved with the Black Panthers and is still helping Asian-Americans find and express their own voice in American popular culture.
Now 73 years young, Nobuko is still making change and inspiring people. She did not find her political consciousness until the age of 27. There’s hope for me yet!