Years ago I was recruiting a replacement for myself in a leadership position, and I interviewed a Canadian man. I remember being impressed with the candidate’s thoughtfulness and people skills. After a while I asked him, “what is something you’ve learned from leadership?”
His response was, “I’ve learned that treating people fairly is different from treating them equally.” This left a lasting impression on me. Little things bring it back to my memory: setting boundaries for my children, for example.
I grew up in a politically and religiously conservative household, and it took me many years to learn to see the wisdom and justice of affirmative action. I had been trained to think it was “reverse discrimination.” Once I understood more of the meanings of privilege and oppression, though, the logic and humanity were inescapable. I couldn’t unlearn it, couldn’t unsee it. (If you don’t know much of the centuries-long history of affirmative action in America, learn about it here.)
It’s the same basic principle that the candidate was explaining to me. I didn’t end up hiring that person, but I’ve thought about him often over the years. Each person who crosses our path leaves us different, and hopefully better. Certainly this man did.