Opinion and Editorial

Double standards are damaging

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra
Filed on November 1, 2020

(Romans Klevcovs / Alamy Stock Photo)

Need of the hour is to promote a level playing field

Different strokes for different people. The first person known to have used this expression was the legendary boxer Muhammed Ali. In November 1966, he was explaining his knock-out punches against Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson and said, “I got different strokes for different folks.” Given Ali’s celebrated and inventive use of language, it is likely that he coined the expression.

According to the dictionary, it means that people are different and that some individuals or groups have different needs and wants from others. Different people will like or do different things, so the expression seems very fair.

Then we have different standards for different people, for instance, the standard you will have for someone you love dearly, will be quite different from the one you have for an acquaintance. Sadly, with materialism seeping into society, different standard somewhere became double standards for some people. Double standards are unfair. A standard is a way of evaluating someone, and double standard is two-faced. It’s like having a rule that applies to some people in one way and in another way to others. Men getting paid more for the same work than women, is an example of double standard. A double standard is viewed negatively as it usually indicates the presence of hypocritical, biased and/or unfair attitudes leading to unjust behaviours.

Double standard has always seemed to me to symbolise the opposite of the rule of law. The rule of law means that when you go before a court, the outcome depends on the merits of your case, not your political status, relation to the court, or other personal characteristics. It does not mean that the law is a mechanical enterprise — it cannot be. But it should mean that the judge will apply the same standards to the merits of your case, as to those of any other case, whatever the colour of your skin or the content of your character.

People use double standards both intentionally and unintentionally. Intentional use of double standards is generally driven by the desire to achieve a certain outcome, while unintentional use of double standards is driven by emotional motivators, and often involves a failure to notice the double standards or understand that they’re problematic. However, both intentional and unintentional use of double standards can be emotional in nature, and both can lead to similar outcomes in practice.

When responding to the use of double standards, you should first ensure that you’re indeed dealing with a double standard, preferably by asking the person applying the standard to explain their reasoning. Then, you should point out the logical and moral issues with the double standard in question, help the person applying the standard internalise those issues, and negate their motivation for applying the standard in the first place. If none of these solutions work, you should pick an alternative one based on the circumstance, such as escalating the issue to someone who can resolve it, or cutting ties with the person who’s applying double standard.

Having worked in the corporate world, I have seen double standards used extensively. If you want a polite/decent answer from a person using double standards, just cc the boss in the mail. It’s like black and white, when such person replies only to you and when the boss is cc-ed.

The cure for this problem is in our hands. We first need to determine whether something constitutes a double standard and whether there is proper justification for such treatment and then take the appropriate action.

The world needs consistency and integrity. Double standards are damaging and need to be done away with. Need of the hour is to promote a level playing field, a prime example of which is the internet. “The internet has provided a level playing field for criticism and comment — anyone and everyone is entitled to their opinion — and that is one of its greatest strengths,” said Sara Sheridan, a writer and activist.

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra is a legal consultant based in Dubai and the founder of Legal Connect

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