A couple of years ago, I made a picture for another website. Since it was my picture, I posted it on my own social media. A few people got irritated about it. They didn’t directly share their aggression, though. They snarked and bit at the fringes of their frustration. It’s what people do instead of finding a way to honestly share their uncomfortable opinions.
Because so much time has passed, I’ve learned that the irritation resulted from their displeasure with the word “privilege.” It’s one of those words which people have sometimes weaponized to imply that well-to-do people have become blind to the real world or minority considerations. On the other website, the one which didn’t attribute the photo to a person, the commentary turned dark and sour very quickly. The word has only become more amplified and vilified since then. Memes refuting the absurdity of the implied observation of privilege are immensely popular.
Coincidentally enough, a couple of social media friends recently shared anecdotes about their daily lives. They neatly tied conclusions to their stories. The problem is that they were oblivious to the privilege embedded in every aspect of their stories. I only noticed it because their stories generalized stereotypes about the circumstances of the other players involved in their anecdotes, the bit players serving as the backdrop for their conclusions. Having money, time, and means to travel to a place and have someone else prepare their food, serve them, and attend their needs is a part of the privilege of having resources. I, of course, didn’t mention my observations to them. That sort of honesty draws a bit of anger and retaliation. Most people enjoy the satisfaction of thinking that their success is due almost entirely to merit.
Make no mistake, many people have worked hard and made the right choices. I know several people who deserve respect for the way they’ve played their cards.
As we all know, however, it is possible to do everything right and still lose, though.
For some of us, we know that a single moment, one unearned, can ruin our lives, plans, finances, or health. A body on the floor. A negligent motorist at an intersection. An undiagnosed valve in someone’s heart. Cancer cells in one’s lungs, even after never smoking and living a clean life. A plane falling from the sky on a Saturday morning in September. A call to defend one’s country halfway around the world.
Some feel that their faith or belief in God has favored them. Whether this is true or not, I know several devout people whose lives are infused with compassion and lovingkindness who’ve experienced some of life’s most grievous challenges. Whether it makes people uneasy or not, faith does not equate to favorable circumstance upon us, nor is a lack of it a reason for failure. Grief and good are sprinkled in equal measure upon everyone.
It is possible to feel satisfied with one’s full life. Pride, honor, and fulfillment are natural consequences of threading the complex needle of circumstance in life.
Good people don’t weaponize the word “privilege.”
Good people also don’t fight the necessity of recognizing their luck against the prism of reality.
For some, their mantra is “If you don’t have to think about it, it’s privilege.” For others, “If it’s not a problem to you personally, it’s not a problem.” Also, “The fact that privilege helps you doesn’t mean you didn’t have to work hard, but it does mean that others have to work harder to overcome societal disadvantage.”
These quips are popular because they antagonize the simple fact of privilege and turn it into an accusation as if those with privilege all abuse their opportunities selfishly. These simplistic bumper sticker quips exist precisely because some people snarl and bark when asked to recognize their head start in life.
Fair or not, I feel rich. And privileged. It’s foolish for me to look around and forget how lucky I am. Most of my luck is a result of geography, not effort. I’ve been lucky enough to have decent health and at least access to a massive medical infrastructure to rescue me if not. My youth was violent and poor. I had the privilege of miraculously avoiding making one too many mistakes that would’ve derailed me further. I’m proud of my aversion to the politics and prejudices of those around me when I was young.
Simply put, the majority of my life’s privilege results from where I was born on this planet. The rest falls to demographics, education, and opportunity. I can’t take credit for those things.
I don’t have to curse myself for being lucky, either. Nor should any of us feel guilty. But we should all feel thankful.
Absent some of these factors, no amount of pluck and effort would have propelled me above the station I would have otherwise been assigned.
Privilege. The privilege of being.
If you zoom out above the Earth, you’ll find that your life is one of wealth and privilege. Comparison proves that you are lucky to have been born where you are, with the body and mind you have, accompanied by the geography and economics of opportunity.
If you’re accused of ignoring your privilege, lean into and be thankful for your life.