Note: Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are citations from The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). © 1964, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of Perseus Books Group.
To Dreikurs, equality was perhaps the most important emphasis in Adler's thought, and Dreikurs named his last book, Social Equality: The Challenge of Today (1971). Adler certainly examined all interpersonal conflicts as reflecting some failure to understand and answer the universal demand for mutual respect between nations, races, sexes, employers-employees, and adultschildren. Adler was chary about use of the term equality in discussion of human relationships, as the word refers to a mathematical concept, and can carry a connotation of sameness. His emphasis was on the uniqueness of the individual variant, and he avoided suggestions that we are all the same or can be expected to achieve in the same way as others. He was clear about acknowledging an equality of value, especially in intimate relationships, and his recurring references to the commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," show that he saw the individual as obliged to grant the same dignity to others which he seeks for himself.
Dr. Kenneth B. Clark (1915-2005), the first African-American president of the American Psychological Association, said that by his study and use of Adler's work, he was able to shape his powerfully influential notes for the argument before the Supreme Court against the "separate but equal" doctrine originating in the case of "Plessy v. Ferguson" (1896). Clark's brief argued that "separate" was inherently "unequal" in public schools, where it served to undermine the purposes of education by fostering feelings of inferiority instead of stimulating efforts to overcome such feelings in striving toward positive achievements. This led to the historic 1954 decision, "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas" that overturned "Plessy" and so put an end to legal support for racially segregated schools in the United States. Dr. Clark reported that Thurgood Marshall, the lead attorney in the case (later to serve as the first African-American Justice on the Court) told him: "[Chief Justice [Earl] Warren specifically mentioned the psychological testimony as the key" to winning the case. In an address to the (then) American Society of Adlerian Psychology's 15th Annual Meeting in New York City, Dr. Clark stated:
My introduction to the theories of Alfred Adler was a turning point in my personal and intellectual life. Adlerian ideas have dominated my professional writings and my actions as a person and as a psychologist from my undergraduate days. . . . To the extent I have been able to make any contribution to the theoretical and moral assumptions upon which the struggle for racial justice in America has been based, it has been primarily through the appropriate modification and use of the Adlerian perspective and conceptual framework. To the extent that Adlerian thinking influenced my own thinking and research, and . . . that my thoughts and writings have influenced in any way the civil rights movement, determines, at least in part, the extent to which ideas of Alfred Adler have contributed to the accelerated quest for racial justice in America (Clark, 1967, pp. 181-190).
We are approaching a time where everyone will take his place as an equal, self-reliantly and freely, no longer in the service of a person, but in the service of a common idea, the idea of physical and mental progress (p. 55).
It has been imputed to us that we assume and strive for the sameness of men. This is a myth. Quite on the contrary, we attempt to examine the nuances, the uniqueness of the goal, the uniqueness of the opinion of a man of himself and the tasks of life. The task of Individual Psychology is to comprehend the individual variant (p. 180).
Individual Psychology . . . postulates the equality of all human life — not to be interpreted as equality of achievement (Adler, 1979, p. 284).
If the [intimate] partners are really interested in each other, there will never be the difficulty of sexual attraction coming to an end. This stop implies always a lack of interest; it tells us that the individual no longer feels equal, friendly, and cooperative toward the partner (p. 433).
© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 30).
Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Adler, A. (1979). Superiority and social interest: A collection of later writings (3rd Rev. ed.). (H. L. Ansbacher & R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). New York: Viking Compass. (Original work published 1964)
Clark, K. B. (1967). Implications of Adlerian theory for an understanding of civil rights problems and action. [Keynote Speech, 15th Annual Conference of the American Society of Adlerian Psychology, New York, NY]. Journal of Individual Psychology, 23(2), 181-190.
Dreikurs, R. (1971). Social equality: The challenge of today. Chicago: Henry Regnery.