Humanity shares one common state. We inhabit a world that is in peril. We are under equal threat.
“We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.”
“Virtue can only flourish among equals.”
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) was a British writer, philosopher and advocate of women’s rights. She was also the mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, aka Mary Shelley who gave us “Frankenstein.”
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote novels, travel narratives, a conduct book and history of the French Revolution. She is best known for “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” which argues that women are not naturally inferior to men. After her death at the age of 38, a memoir published by her husband revealed an unconventional lifestyle, which inadvertently ruined her reputation for almost a century. Her ideas and writings experienced a rebirth with the appearance of the feminist movement at the turn of the twentieth century.
Mary Wollstonecraft’s life was a reflection of her values and beliefs. The age in which she lived was unable to grasp the significance of her ideas, but our age considers her to be one of the founding feminist philosophers. Her life and work continues to inspire and challenge.
“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Equality is a principle that we all embrace with great enthusiasm. It is an ideal that honours the spirit of community and fair-mindedness. Acting on this high standard is where we encounter challenges to our value and belief systems. “Walking the talk”, is very different from engaging in a theoretically discussion.
Mary Douglas (1921-2007), a British anthropologist who was known for her work on human culture, symbolism and social anthropology, wrote, “Real equality is immensely difficult to achieve, it needs continual revision and monitoring of distributions. And it does not provide buffers between members, so they are continually colliding or frustrating each other.”
Equality is worth the frustration, the revision, the monitoring. We strive towards an ideal. What we do in the present may only be realized beyond our timeline. Our efforts, in the long-term, will not be in vain. Fanny Wright (1795-1852), lecturer, writer, freethinker, feminist, abolitionist and social reformer, was resolved on this point. “Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.”
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
On January 21, 2013, the world celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. There are those individuals that transcend national boundaries and speak to the hope of humanity. Martin Luther King, Jr., an American clergyman, activist, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, was such an individual. He delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech at the celebrated 1963 March on Washington. His message was about fairness, justice and, above all, equality.
This week, I want to explore the state of being equal as we understand it within the human experience. Equality can be assessed on quantity, degree, value, rank or ability. In the end, it is about placing value on life itself.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau met in 1837. Lucy Brown, who boarded at David Thoreau’s home, was the sister-in-law of Ralph Waldo Emerson. On April 9th, she introduced the two men who were destined to form a lifelong friendship. Emerson was 34 and Thoreau was a 20-year old Harvard senior. Both men were to become leaders in the transcendental philosophical movement that sprang up in the 1830’s and 1840’s, which spoke to the connection between man and nature. Perhaps the genesis of frugality comes from differentiating between wants and needs, desires and requirements.
“We make ourselves rich by making our wants few.”
Henry David Thoreau
“Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants, and to serve them one’s self?”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Frugality forms an affectionate companionship with gentleness and humility. One leads to the other and then to the other before returning again to the beginning. Lao Tzu (Laozi), a philosopher of ancient China best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching and, in tradition, the founder of philosophical Taoism, offers these words of wisdom.
“I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”