I grew up with a mother who was constantly reminding me that I should “treat everyone as an equal”. She wasn’t one to dish it out and not take it either, she led by example.
When I was young we had a Maid named Mary McCants. I capitalized the “M” in “maid” intentionally, as this was her title, not a label signifying the typical stereotypes affiliated with the word “maid” in that day and age. Mary was my second mother. A sister to my mother and father. And she was a house-keeper. My mom treated her with the upmost respect. She was kind to her, courteous, and a good friend. When Mary needed someone to listen, my mother was there. When she took a second job selling Avon, my mother bought perfume. In return, Mary treated us like family and was always there for me.
Every year I looked forward to Mary’s and my annual tradition of watching The Miss America Pageant. We’d lay on my parents’ bed and study each contestant. Such diverse groups of women with talent and beauty. Things have changed because back then those women were portrayed as smart and talented and Miss America was a truly respectable position. I was so silly when I was a kid. I would grab my mom’s bra and stuff it with tennis balls and promenade around the room, imitating each contender as if I was wearing a fabulous gown. “Oh hello darlings!” I would say, swishing through the room. Mary would laugh, and then enlighten me on issues of race and ethnicity, and the esoteric nature of defining beauty. Through my relationship with Mary I learned about other cultures. I learned how to respect people for who they really are, not for what they appear to be, to understand others and embrace their differences celebrating each individual’s uniqueness.
My father further implemented my training in equality via various stories of how he met “so and so” not knowing that they were “insert famous title here” and that it was “a good thing he was nice to (insert said famous title)”. Remind me to tell you how this ALWAYS happens to me. Occupational hazard because I’m awful with names and faces and I work in entertainment. Following his own lesson, my father was fabulous at getting along with just about everybody. My favorite example? When my father met his college roommate, George, his first day at Yale, they immediately hit it off. They joined the baseball club together and became great friends. Despite their different religious backgrounds (that was a big deal back then), they found commonalities in sports and humor, and they grew close. After his roommate moved into married housing my dad made a point to nurture and maintain that friendship. They remained friends for a very very long time. My father even helped George run his first political campaign in Cleveland. Which is why I had President George Bush’s signature on my college admissions applications (Senior. Senior. George Bush Senior. Felt it necessary to make that clear). Political agendas aside, he and my father were good friends. And since then my father always said “Treat everyone you meet like they may be the next president of a country. Because you never know, they might.” And who could argue with him?
Never underestimate the power of modesty and humility. My diverse and broad minded upbringing with an emphasis on treating everyone equally has resulted in some amazing opportunities, and so far a life of many rewarding friendships.
“A point in every direction is the same as no point at all”
I have to interject that it is important to not push humility to the point of diffidence. Always remember from where you have come, and take humble pride in that. I don’t really want to talk about social class here because, well, I’ve been raised to see beyond the lines and fight against them so the whole topic makes me uncomfortable; which honestly is an issue in and of itself. I will say this:
To future parents or other didactics- training a person to open their heart and accept all types of people is important, but seeing the lines of socio-economic classes and accepting they exist is equally essential. Don’t only teach people to embrace and respect others, teach them to also embrace and respect themselves, because being ashamed or embarrassed of or feeling guilty about where you are from- no matter what “class” it is – will only have negative ramifications.
Confidence a kind heart and humility. That is so key.
With all this being said, next time your checking out at the grocery store or paying your bill at a restaurant, don’t forget to ask the clerk/waiter how their day has been, or to thank them for their help and wish them a nice day. You never know, they may be the next president of America. Or Prime Minister of Canada or the next King or Queen of Genovia. OR (for those of us who work in entertainment) the next CFO of Paramount Pictures. 🙂