Peter Singer in his book The Most Good You Can Do quotes Paul Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale University, who responds to the idea of a global society in which all people extend empathy toward all others. Bloom writes and is quoted by Singer, “Our best hope for the future is not to get people to think of all humanity as a family — that’s impossible. It lies, instead, in an appreciation of the fact that, even if we don’t empathize with distant strangers, their lives have the same value as the lives of those we love.” What Bloom and Singer would argue is that we need to be able to look at the world as a whole and our position in the world to understand that no matter what, our life holds the same value as those around us and those in distant countries.
It is challenging, and something I have struggled with overtime, to recognize that all human beings are equal in terms of the value of our their lives. It is written into the United States Constitution and something we seem to carry with us wherever we go, but actually diving into the meaning of equality and following through on that meaning is quite difficult. It is hard to see someone asking for money on the street and remember that their life is just as important as our life. I think that part of the challenge lies in the ways we count success. Looking at the monetary value of someones life, their status as a leader or policy maker, or even the influence of another’s life distracts us from the idea that everyone’s life is of equal value. We are not equal in terms of our talents, desires, opportunities, or in the value we return to the world, but we should all be equal politically, in the eyes of the law, and when we truly stop to reflect, in the respect we garner from every individual.
I think one of the reasons we struggle with equality is because we are not willing to see the inequalities in our lives. We like to say that everyone is equal to us and assert that we are good people who treat everyone the same because we don’t notice the inequalities. The truth is that we do recognize inequalities and they factor into our decisions. If we can be honest with ourselves about the way that our inequalities impact our decisions then we can begin to better recognize what equality means between human beings, and we can better respond and act equally towards others.
Singer and Bloom would argue that we need to build a level of self-awareness in our lives to recognize the way we treat ourselves, those we love, those who are close to us and belong to the same tribe, and those who are distant, look differently, and come from underserved backgrounds. If we do not recognize how we are treating not just those close to us, but everyone in the world, then we are not able to take steps to improve the way we act toward others. By understanding that those in other parts of the world should be treated with the same respect and value as those in our community, we can meaningfully incorporate everyone into the progress of the world. We can use our resources to better the entire planet and we can decide to use our resources in the places where they will have the greatest impact.