Reflections on Yoni’s aphorism by Mia Gray: Are we all equal?
I think this aphorism highlights a very important idea. It is often popular to say that each person is “equal” but this isn’t necessarily correct. While each person most certainly has equal worth, not everyone is equal in their abilities and not everyone can be treated in the exact same way. For example, for some, the idea of an achievement is getting an A* on an exam but for others, just getting out of bed and turning up to the exam is an achievement. For some, their idea of stress is trying to balance a high-powered job, family, and multiple responsibilities, but for others just talking to another person can be a stressful event. And just because we all have different abilities and we all have to navigate life at different paces, none of our struggles or achievements mean any less than someone else’s. I saw a post on social media the other day that said “if one person drowns in 2 meters of water and someone else drowns in 30 meters of water, they’ve still both drowned. There’s no point comparing hardships.” Similarly, we need to treat everyone as a nuanced case, not just throw the idea of egalitarianism over everyone. We must be sensitive to other’s needs and try to understand the pace of life that everyone can go at.
In primary school I was always frustrated because there was one ‘naughty’ boy in the class. Whenever he did a simple task right and without a fuss he would be rewarded but when one of us did the same task, it was considered a normal action and we wouldn’t get thanks. I always complained that just because he was naughty he was rewarded for doing anything right, and us ‘good’ children were always doing things right and never getting recognition for it. It wasn’t until I grew up that I realised, the teacher was simply nurturing the best side in all of us. And if the best side to a difficult child was completing a simple task, so be it – let’s help him grow, not get angry that he’s just going a bit slower than the rest of us.
This message still stands today, in the adult world and is especially prevalent on Sukkot, because our actions are all done outside in the Sukkah, and therefore very public. Some choose to eat in a Sukkah, some choose to sleep in a Sukkah, some don’t have a Sukkah but still observe the festival in their own way. And while usually one can be a bit more private with their Judaism, sukkot unfortunately can often be a bit of a competition. Similar to the “how late did you stay awake on Seder night?” question, there’s a form of pride in comparing how brave you were eating in the rain, sleeping in the cold etc. and I find that people always compare their own sukkah successes and hardships. But as with life, it is important to go at the rate that is comfortable for you, and accept that everyone else will do the same. We might not be equal in this sense, but maybe that’s more special. Quite honestly an equal world would be a bit dull, so maybe it’s time to use Yoni’s aphorism and celebrate our differences.
Some discussion questions:
- Is everyone equal?
- When is it right to treat people differently? When is it wrong?
- What do you think about this cartoon?
About Mia Gray
Mia Gray was the Yoni Jesner Scholar in 2016-17. She spent her gap year in Israel on the Bnei Akiva Lahava programme and is now at university. She recently participated in the Chief Rabbi’s Ben Azzai programme.