Most people desire equity but ask for equality. This misconception often leads to reforms in our social structures, laws, or personal lives that do not truly fulfill us but instead become a medium for victimization.

It is imperative that a well-oiled and functioning society recognize the difference between equality and equity, and which of these factors they are truly pursuing in order to effect beneficial changes for all people. Let’s take a short moment to re-examine the difference between the two.

Definitions

Equality: Treating all people the same.

Equity: Giving all people the same opportunities.

For example, let’s look at the circumstantial differences between equality and equity as it relates to one’s ability to use a bicycle for its intended purpose.

Let’s say there are two people: One person must be confined to a wheelchair, and one can use their lower extremities. Equality, in this scenario, would ensure that each person receives a bicycle. Fair enough, right?

Both the man confined to the wheelchair and the other receive a bicycle. This is often what most people think is fair. Equity, on the other hand, would ensure that each person is given the opportunity to use the bicycle for its intended purpose.

The man in the wheelchair would be given a special bicycle that he could ride along with the other man, who was given a perfectly suitable, normal bicycle. Which of these scenarios seems to be more fair?

Equity bicycle graphic, English, green background.

Which of these scenarios, equality or equity, becomes obviously more detrimental to creating a social structure that functions well, in terms of our feelings of belonging?

Belonging is one of the desirable traits in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We as a society and as individuals must strive to increase the quantity and quality of equity in the lives of others to ensure that we maximize fulfillment and minimize victimhood.

Functions of Equality

Equality, then, is about a commonly shared and perceived fairness. In a sense, equality lacks the spirit and authenticity that equity does simply due to the lack of thoughtfulness regarding the input/output balance.

A perfectly balanced society, and personal life, requires that input match respective output. This relates to the principle that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it merely transforms. The issue with equality is that, despite the input (the bicycle), the limits on the utility (ability to ride or not) of that input negatively affects the output.

Therefore, energy is being unfulfilled in its intended use, and as a result, we feel victimized due to our inability to participate in the collective energy of society.

For example, I give ten people ten bicycles, but only nine of those bicycles can be used based on the limits of utility. (Perhaps I gave a bicycle to a child too short to ride one, someone confined to a wheelchair, etc.) Therefore, equality can breed a state of mind in an individual that most people fall into from time to time: victimhood.

This victimhood is caused by an internal comparison regarding one’s ability to contribute to the group dynamic. The fact that this person cannot ride the bicycle contributes to their feeling of victimhood and lack of utilization of the resources provided by social “equality.”

That’s right, my point is not solely about the social constructs on equality and equity—they simply play a great role in explaining the concept of victimhood on a personal, organizational, and national level.

Victimhood, as we know, is an extremely limiting belief. It directly affects the reasoning behind a person’s or organization’s behaviors. It is the belief that others are to blame for your own issues.

In a sense, although equality was enacted and maintained, the proper social reasoning behind the purpose of equity was not made clear from the beginning. Therefore, despite ensuring the equal treatment of all people by giving away bicycles, this scenario resulted in a violation of the principles behind equity, which breeds victimhood.

The Danger of Victimhood

Why is victimhood so dangerous? Victimhood is dangerous because it is often given situational awareness as a method of justification. We can point to the fact that we cannot ride the bicycle to enforce that we are victims, and therefore justify (to ourselves) why others are responsible for our happiness.

Simply put, due to our ability to justify why we are victims, we become less empowered to change our circumstances with our own actions. Here is the timeline of the bicycle/victimhood experiment on the basis of equality.

Timeline of Equality

Let's use the bicycles to make our point!
Let’s use the bicycles to make our point!

1. Bicycles are rationed out to all through a perceived notion of equality, in which complaints can’t be made and perceptions can’t be altered, because equality is often what is asked for.

In other words, all people are given the same exact bicycle whether they can ride it or not. Equality can exist in the same moment that inequity exists—in fact, it often does. Everyone has bicycles, but not everybody can ride them.

More often than not, the two are mutually exclusive due to the diversity of people. Conversely, equity most often exists in the sense that inequality is present, yet there is much less social stigma around equity because all people can contribute to the potential provided to them, i.e., everybody can ride their bicycles, despite those bicycles not being exactly the same in terms of their respective riding methods (hand-powered, foot-powered, etc.).

2. Inputs do not always create the intended outputs. In the equality scenario, bicycles aren’t all being used: there is waste, misusage, and a growing Stagnant Potential that results from a limited Active Potential in the social response (due to limited output of resources). Remember, energy must go somewhere; if it is not being actively used, then it falls into the Stagnant Potential Hemisphere. (Ten bicycles are given, nine are being ridden). For more on stagnant and active potential, click here!

3. Due to limited output, comparisons are made between people. Victimhood is established through a justification of having similar modes (all people having bicycles) without the fulfillment of the usage (all people being able to ride).

These feelings of victimhood can be both socially and independently provoked. Victimhood is often only used to justify a lack of action. The bicycle scenario is quite an unrealistic situation; it is simply one in which I could make my points clear.

But consider the following, which is the most important part: A victimhood mindset is not always externally provoked, but it is always internally limiting. You give away your power to change your life by playing the victim.

4. Infighting among groups, injustice, and self-imposed limiting beliefs begin to affect the people due to “equality.” Ultimately, as a result of the lack of energy that some individuals can contribute, they develop victimhood mindsets. These mindsets are debilitating, negative, and limit your ability for self-actualization.

These people believe they are left out, forgotten, and targeted. This obviously causes feelings of disdain for the group, for society, and for the potential donor of any bicycles to begin with!

Now, let’s watch what happens in the equity format!

Functions of Equity

Equity is less about perceived fairness; instead, it highly regards a common usage of resources and a common opportunity for actualization. Although all people request equality, most of them truthfully desire equity.

This is how communication can be misdirected and manipulated. Nobody wants sole equality in life; we all want equity for ourselves and others. We don’t simply want the same treatment—we want the same opportunities that that treatment can provide.

It is the difference between saying “Anybody can run for office, but only a white male will become president” (equality: running for office) and “Anybody can run for office, but anyone can become president” (equity: the opportunity to become president).

Equity functions as a deterrent to victimhood for the sole reason that all people are given the same opportunities. Self-imposed limits based on circumstantial reasoning, therefore, cease to exist.

These limits would otherwise be imposed, not by the party that contributes to the output of the whole, but by the parties that make up the gap between input and output. Here is what I mean: The input is the bicycles given, the output is the bicycles used, and the gap is those people who cannot contribute to the output and therefore cannot use their bicycles. Equality breeds victimhood because equality establishes the gap between input and output.

This gap, in the equity scenario, would contribute to the output, causing self-imposed beliefs and victimhood to cease entirely. The important aspect to remember is that victimhood is a personal limit on a possibility, and always self-imposed and self-limiting through circumstantial awareness.

This “circumstantial awareness” is called a reference, and everything we believe is usually a result of the references we have experienced to back up the claims we make and the beliefs we have. Those people who were unable to contribute to the whole through a lack of opportunity present the gap in input and output, and therefore, are likely to feel victimized by others.

Let’s look at the timeline in which equity is the focus.

Timeline of Equity

Equity is about balance!
Equity is about balance!

1. Bicycles are rationed out to all people through the notion of equity, with the assurance that all people be given the opportunity to utilize them for their intended purpose. All people can now ride their bicycles.

Bicycles have been made small for shorter people, large for larger people, hand-pedaled for crippled people, foot-pedaled for others. All people can now, in the spirit of equity, contribute to the Active Potential of the energy that has been exercised by giving away bicycles. Stagnant Potential decreases.

2. Equal inputs create equal outputs. Bicycles are all being used, or at least have the maximum Active Potential quotient. There is no waste, and due to this, there is no growing energy to be placed in the Stagnant Potential Hemisphere.

People are happier, fulfilled, and live with a sense of belonging in this way.

3. There is no internal comparison made by individuals. Though people may have different modes (ways in which the bicycle can be used: foot-pedaled/hand-pedaled, etc.), the potential usage remains equal.

It is the means of the equitable social contribution that deprives a victimhood mindset of its power. 

4. Infighting does not exist because victimhood would not exist. Justice has been done through equity. Self-imposed limiting beliefs would either never form or begin to wither away in the fairness of equity.

Conclusion

The ultimate difference in equality and equity is in their respective social contribution. Equity contributes more of an even balance of energy and resources to the whole of societal use. Equality limits that contribution by falsifying pretenses to appear equitable, but to not provide similar opportunities.

Strive for equity. In a perfect world, our leaders will ask themselves “Do we offer solutions to appease, or promote?” Appeasing is often the nature of equality. Promoting is the nature of moving society forward through equity.

Thanks for reading!

-Austin Denison is a change management consultant from Southern California and founder/CEO of Denison Success Systems LLC. He is the author of The Essential Change Management Guidebook: Master The Art of Organizational Change as well as The Potential Dichotomy: The Philosophy of a Fulfilling Life.