The seven of them sat at the same small table everyday during lunch. Out of obligation, the rest of the student body sat elsewhere. It’s interesting how in the pliable mind of a middle school student, one thing was concrete – “they sit at that table, we sit everywhere else”. ‘They‘ were the popular kids – and they knew it.
To this day, I can’t tell you the one thing that made them popular. Perhaps it was their trendy clothes, or the fact that they collectively exuded this brash sense of exclusivity, grounded in some fictional ethereal endowment known only to them – yet accepted by everyone else. Whatever it was, it elevated them – because students idealized them. They were viewed in some weird way – as better.
As someone who has wrestled with his fair share of insecurities, one who would have (if I’m being honest) loved a seat at the small table; I have always found myself asking, “what, if anything, makes one person better than the other”?
Context is Key
Now, I understand that context is key. Normally what makes a person “better” is usually relative to the situation at hand. A 6ft. 5in. athletic individual is much more likely to be a better basketball player than me. My 5ft. 6in. self probably couldn’t graze the rim if my life depended on it – It’s ok, I’m at peace with this.
But what happens when we strip away all contexts? What happens when we match one human against the other?
What makes one better?
I would imagine that most people would argue nothing – and yet, it’s not how we live our lives.
Us vs. Them
We rank people, and label them. We place them in groups and categories. We elevate some, while regarding others as less than.
Our “circle”, if we’re honest, is typically made up of those who share our same convictions and ideals – even professions. While those who don’t remain at arms distance, as their personal virtues – or follies, have no place in the confines of our company.
We are Christians, Agnostics, Atheists, conservatives, liberals, educated, un-educated, businessmen and women, teachers, leaders, popular, unpopular, affluent, and destitute – to name a few.
But we are people, who sit at our tables while we look across the cafeteria with either admiration or disdain.
I believe we hang our hats on the “identifiable attributes” of the groups we belong to. This (to us) is what makes us better – and makes others less than. We stand on the pedestal of our identities, ideologies, possessions, and accomplishments; while we look down and scoff at those who for whatever reason find themselves outside of our supposed realm of understanding or status.
We say they are the ignorant, politically incompetent, privileged, intolerant, irresponsible — even sinful. But we are pretentious. Like children we forget that life is much more than the table we sit at, yet we flaunt it anyway.
We brandish our “identifiers“, forgetting that these things are no criteria for what makes a person better or worse. Truth is, our identifiers are fleeting, thus putting them aside reveals a human — an equally worthy, valuable, precious human being.
The One Thing That Makes us Better
I would like to argue, however, that there is but one “thing” that makes an individual better than the other.
That is, the personal internalization that one is no better than the other.
What I mean is, a human being who recognizes that all are valuable, that identifiers are no criteria by which to measure a persons value or worth; one that understands that he or she is no better than anyone else, will live a fuller more peaceful life.
By comparison, the person who maintains that they are in some way better than the other, will forever exercise their conviction upon those around them. Unfortunately, the exercise of such a sentiment can lead to hurtful — even evil things.
There Can Be Better…
Now don’t get me wrong, there can always be better ideas – better approaches that best suit a situation or challenge. There can be better mindsets – ways to view life that encourage success and peace. But there are no inherently better people.
Yet as long as we continue to make our identifiers the marker of a “better” or “worse” person, the chasms between people groups will continue to grow deeper and wider.
Why not live our lives recognizing people for what they are – people. As opposed to viewing someone as nothing more than the ideology that they advocate, why not respect a person for simply being a human being? Instead of sitting at our tables basking in the glory of who we are, why not share a meal with someone who sees things differently?
Truth is, identities aside, group affiliations aside, we are humans first and foremost, no better, no worse — just human.