We are all born free and equal. We all have our own thoughts and ideas. We should all be treated in the same way. These rights belong to everybody, whatever our differences.
The lines above are the first of the children’s book ‘We are all Born Free – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures’ published in association with the human rights organisation Amnesty International. It’s a wonderfully beautiful and necessary book that deserves a place on the bookshelf in every home. These first lines though, they get me thinking. Equal means the same. We are not all the same. We are very different. We need to be treated differently. Don’t misinterpret me. We are all of equal value. No one is more important than another. But we are not the same, and therefore should not be treated the same. Our needs must be met, and our needs differ. The child who is vision impaired has vastly different needs to the child who is gifted. These needs are different again to the child with autism, the child in a single parent home, the child with anxiety, the child who is bilingual, the child who is a refugee, the neglected child, the abused child, and the loved and privileged child. It would be so very wrong to treat all of these children the same, potentially resulting in a violation of human rights.
I am the mother of four sons whose needs vary considerably. I parent equitably rather than equally, making decisions based on need rather than treating the four of them the same. At the foundation, yes, their needs are the same. They need to be loved, valued and nurtured. They need to be kept safe, to sleep and to be fed. Beyond this foundation, their needs are diverse. The way that I address the needs of each child is unique. My actions come from the same moral foundation, but in demonstration they are distinct. The age of my children is their most apparent difference. The needs of my teenager are in stark contrast to the needs of my toddler. If my teen throws his dinner plate across the table, the consequence to follow is not the same as if my two-year-old throws his plate. Likewise, my two-year-old is not allowed to catch the bus alone while my teen is. My five-year-old is highly anxious and when he asks me to sit at his bedroom door while he falls asleep, my thought process is different to when my ‘spirited’ three-year-old makes the same request. When my son diagnosed with ADHD loses yet another belonging, there is a different level of understanding. My children are individuals with different capabilities. I have different expectations of them, and different strategies I use to support them to meet these expectations. This permeates all aspects of my parenting. Decisions are not based on age or gender or what was done with another child. This includes simple decisions such as bed time, what they eat for dinner and what’s allowed for dessert. As well as complex decisions such as what kind of child care will be used, which school they will attend, and how behavioural issues are addressed.
To create a world where we are all provided with equal opportunity, we need to ensure we don’t treat everyone the same. Society already operates from this philosophy in particular facets. Our tax system, our welfare system, and our justice system, do not treat everyone the same, but rather on a needs basis. To agree or disagree with these systems is your prerogative. However, it would be difficult to argue that the world would be a better place if we treated everyone the same. I acknowledge that we are all born of equal value; however, we need to actively recognise, respond to, and celebrate difference, to be a truly equitable society that values equal opportunity and expects the best from its people.