During my long parallel careers in Education and Politics I have constantly sought, and sometimes achieved equality of opportunity, particularly in Education – Politics is another matter.
I have attempted to recognise and support good leadership. Indeed, I have been a leader myself. In 1989 I was elected by a majority of one in a group of 23 as leader of the Opposition on the City of Edinburgh District Council. During my first year in the job I treated all my colleagues, including those who were initially against me as if they supported me. This led to some interesting situations but in the end it worked. By the end of the first year we had become a cohesive group and at the next election we won 40% of the vote, thus depriving the party in office at the time of its overall majority. We used the diverse talents of the members to good effect.
As many readers know (and I have referred to it before and already in this article) I worked simultaneously as a College Lecturer in Business Studies and became a Senior Manager as well as setting up a Training Needs Analysis programme to market colleges to the business community. Not all students had equal ability but I tried to ensure equal opportunities to learn were there for all those who wanted to learn. Also I encouraged them to help each other. Even in our ‘wired world’ when education is increasingly carried out remotely I still believe human impact leads to more equal results.
Staying with Education, my final full-time job in education was a year spent running and updating a childcare centre in a deprived area of Edinburgh. We looked after 200 families with babies from six weeks, through pre-school and breakfast and after-school clubs in seven locations. Many families received financial help from the Council. Our turnover was around £1 million with much of the expenditure going on staffing costs and rent. I put in place what seemed to the existing staff radical changes. These included children sitting round a table for meals eating with proper cutlery and helping each other. Also I encouraged the children to suggest food they wanted to try and where safe and appropriate to help to prepare it. For example the after-school clubs really enjoyed doing this.
I could write reams about this but it is probably enough to give one more example of equality. I introduced a proper Graduation Ceremony for children going up to Primary School. The children chose the theme which was a Pirate Ship. So staff, children and the man who drove the mini-bus (known as Poppa) set to work to build a pirate ship from wood and cardboard, all painted which was great fun. We even had a plank and I got sponsored scrolls printed. All of us dressed as pirates – not my best fashion look! With the children on board the staff read out their names and guided them safely down the plank where I stood at the bottom and capped them all. This was a great success and we got a couple of parents to join the board as a direct result.
Turning to the world stage it is evident that we have the diversity but what about equality? We still have rich and poor, privileged and in many parts of the world families who don’t even have enough to eat. Politicians increasingly have increasing power but decreasing respect from the public Bankers appear to have earned the ‘bad boys’ (and maybe a very few girls) along with the Captains of Industry. Many people see the Monarchy and the unreformed House of Lords as sitting at the top of the population.
So we may fairly conclude for human beings equality is not universal except none of us lives for ever. The poet James Shirley, summed it up in a poem which he wrote in 1559:
‘The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things
There is no armour against fate
Death lays his icy hand on kings;
Sceptre and crown must tumble down
And in the dust be equal made
With poor crooked scythe and spade.
Gloomy, but true!.
Finally, what about the worlds of animals and birds? Can we see equality and/or diversity there ?Do we communicate with them using speech as well as touch? How do they treat each other within their own species as well as others. I think we would all recognise the herd instinct present in many mammals and birds. Invariably there is a leader of the pack or flock. Species fight each other, whether for food or by instinct.
I have been very fortunate in the many great encounters I have had, and still have, with animals, especially horses where I have done healing and, yes, they do understand. I was going to end with a true story about my encounter in the African bush with a mother and baby elephant which I will remember all my life. But rather than subject readers (if you are still with me) to a detailed account I will just say having a baby elephant’s trunk coiled round my neck and rubbing against my face on his/her mum’s instructions confirmed my view that all creatures human and animal could be said to be born equal as well as being as diverse as the weather!