What is Equality?

The following article is based on my TEDx Talk of September 2017 given in Arendal, Norway. 



Most of the world believes that we should have a certain level of equality. Actually most of the world believes that we should have a certain level of equality of opportunities.

But what does equality and equality of opportunity mean?

This meaning changes significantly depending on which culture you are in. One culture may see equality of opportunity as providing the same resources to everyone, independently of someone's potential or abilities. Here everyone can flourish being provided with the same equal resources. 

In other cultures around the world equality of opportunity doesn't mean this. It rather means to help those who are struggling, to help the weak in society, so that at any given time everyone will have the same opportunity to succeed. In this understanding of equality you will funnel resources to those who are struggling so that they can reach the same level as those who are stronger, more intelligent. This understanding is typical of the Scandinavian Social Democracy. 


The third understanding of equality puts a certain threshold or requirement to fulfill in order to gain extra resources or support. That requirement is the same for everyone, everyone as an equal opportunity to reach that threshold. This is typical of more competitive societies where there is a strong focus on excellency.

A good example of such system can easily be seen in the education system.

"If you get to the top 5% of the class, you are going to get this amazing scholarship to go to this amazing university."

Everyone has the same opportunity to get that scholarship - you just need to get good grades - yet only the strongest most clever people will get the best grades. Resources will then be funneled towards these who already perform much better than the average so that they can develop to their full potential. On an individual basis, this is great, you get excellent support if you are good and you want to be excellent. On a society basis, it creates bigger differences between people. 

If you come from a society where you are used to being rewarded with extra resources when you perform well and you come into a society where there is a tendency to help the weak, you may get into a lot of frustration. If you perform very well, you may not get any extra resources, you are already good, society will rather help those who are struggling so that they also have a chance to contribute something. This was one of the biggest cultural challenges I faced when moving from Canada to Scandinavia. 

Challenge yourself to see the world in the perspective of others. Challenge yourself to be more aware of your own biases, of your own expectations and in the way you perceive other people's behaviors.

If we all do this we are going to solve some of the biggest challenges our societies and generation are facing.


Julien S. Bourrelle is the author of the best seller series "The Social Guidebook to Norway".

He lectures about culture in Scandinavia and internationally. More info and bookings  www.julien.tips

By Julien S. Bourrelle

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