I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege lately. It’s something that’s been on my mind as I navigate through life endeavoring to be a better person, endeavoring to be more intentional.
I’m white, middle class, have food to eat and a roof over my head. We don’t fear for our safety or suffer injustices of any kind. My husband and I provide well for our family and we are able to offer our children varied opportunities. We aren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we also don’t want for anything either. We are healthy, safe and have a comfortable life-style which allows us choice and opportunity.
I was born into privilege. A combination of my parents’ backgrounds and their working class ethics and values. My father came from a working class family and he himself left school at 14 to work, gradually training as an accountant and working his way up the corporate ladder. Something of which he is proud of after not having much of anything growing up. My mother, was from a middle class Irish family, with a comfortable upbringing.
As the only daughter to my parents’ second marriage, they had accumulated moderate wealth and continued to work and provide me with a middle class upbringing. Again, we weren’t rich, we didn’t holiday often, but we had everything we needed.
My husband was from a lower class single parent family, however he had strong influences from his grandparents who taught him to work hard to make it in the world. And he did.
Together, my husband and I have worked hard to get where we are today. There have been good times, and some very low times. Times when everything threatened to collapse around us. But, with heads down, we ploughed through and can now be comfortable in providing our daughters with a comfortable middle class upbringing. We can afford them many and varied opportunities to help them be the best people they can be, but we also teach them the value, importance and necessity of hard work.
Despite all the ups and downs, I know I haven’t faced anything in my life that I can call a ‘struggle’, like so many do each and every day.
This is where I get caught.
It’s easy for me to say how wonderful life is. And how positive thinking, hard work and sacrifice get you places. I am afforded the opportunity to work from home, and basically choose how much work I take on. And what a wonderful situation to be in, but I struggle with putting into words how I feel about it. Guilt or that I’m undeserving of such privilege while others face real seemingly insurmountable struggles every day? I don’t know the right words.
Last week I reached out to my Facebook page and crowd sourced opinion on this topic. And I’m so glad I did.
You can read the whole thread here – and I encourage you to, so much food for thought. It really helped me untangle my thoughts on this topic.
Someone asked me, why it matters? Why can’t I simply acknowledge my privilege and put it to good use? It’s a great question. I do believe that to be able to make use of something for good, we need to fully understand our own thoughts and feelings on the matter. This is why I have felt the need to work through this. And while I still don’t feel I can fully articulate my thoughts, they are certainly taking shape.
What I can do with privilege
Realise it’s okay to have what I have
Where I am today is a combination of the journey of my ancestors and my own journey in life. My husband and I have worked hard to be where we are, and desire to bring the best to our children that we can and are able to. Nothing more. It’s okay to be who I am. And it’s okay to be where I am.
Acknowledge my privilege
Some people take privilege for granted. It doesn’t enter their stream of consciousness. They simply live their life wihtout ever giving it a thought. Others, sadly take advantage of their privilege. Where I am right now calls me to acknowledge my privilege, but not only that. It goes further than just acknowledgment. I need to realise that what I have is to be valued and respected, and not taken for granted. I should be mindful to be grateful and not take things for granted. And to acknowledge that there are so many others who don’t have such opportunities.
Understand and support those without such privilege
Although I can never truly understand the struggles or plight of those without privilege, I can make it a priority to try. Not in such a way to pity or sympathize, but to understand and listen. I can support their struggles. I can act and respond not with judgment, but with empathy.
I’ve heard people say the privileged should give the underprivileged a voice – but I don’t agree with that. They have a voice – they just need it to be heard. Their voice is important, and I cannot speak for them, but I can help them be heard.
I can be open minded, listen and stand together. I can spread the message both through my own voice, and the voice of my children. It is important to pass on the fight for fairness, equality and justice to our children. To teach them, not through words alone, but through actions and modelling the right behaviour, attitudes and actions.
I can fight for causes that need help, donate where possible or through whatever the most helpful means. I can add to the discussion of social justice, compassion and empathy. No, I’m never going to be a social activist or social justice blogger, that isn’t my calling, but I can always be part of the discussion and forward motion.
The discussion of privilege isn’t an easy one, and my striving to understand privilege isn’t meant to be conceited. I’m simply trying to work through my feelings on the topic and allow it to bring me to a place where I can add value to the conversation. As with everything, there’s no conclusive answer, and this is simply the extension of a conversation that has been happening for a long time. Where I stand now is in a place to acknowledge and make sure my actions work towards positive change.