One of the greatest lies ever told is that all men are created equal. Nothing could be further from the truth; men are unequal, both in inherited and learned traits, in every conceivable way, from their physical and athletic talents, to their intellectual capacity, to their moral inclinations. There are, living and breathing, real superheroes who will not deny their beliefs, even under torture and imprisonment. There are others who seem, almost from their earliest moments, to be inclined towards every sort of depravity and moral outrage. The great religions often preach that, at some basic level, all men are equal; the great religions are very wrong.
The great idea of democracy is not the fallacy that all men are equal, but that all men should be treated equally under the law. Not so long ago, and in some cases, alas, still today, there were two kinds of law; one for the rich and well born, and another for everyone else. The idea that everyone should be judged by the same laws is a noble one, even if its implementation is very rough and often inconsistent. The guiding principle is that justice should be accorded to people based on their actions, not on their wealth, backgrounds, family connections, friends, or political positions.
A gentleman is well aware of how different, in every way, people can be, and that they deserve to be treated differently. But he only treats people differently as they have been shown to be worthy of such treatment; he does not frown upon the poor, or the disabled, or the old or the young, or people from different cultures or backgrounds; he knows that differences such as these are superficial; as we discuss elsewhere, virtue has little to do with worldly success; the rich man may deserve his riches, or not; the poor woman may deserve her poverty, or not.
A gentleman would not dream of deferring to a rich man simply because he is rich, nor would he ever be impolite to a poor man simply because he is poor. When he meets a stranger, he keeps an open mind, hoping for the best, but being guarded lest he be disappointed. As he comes to know the man, he makes an informed opinion as to whether his new acquaintance is morally good, polite, amusing, attractive, insightful, considerate, or any of the other myriad factors which rightly influence one’s opinion.