COLLEGE PARK, MD –
It is a fact of life – some of us are more privileged in particular regards than others.
It seems we get tripped up on how to grapple with this fact regardless of what side of privilege we fall on.
People who have certain privileges often fall into arrogance and delusions that they are privileged out of their own talent and hard work.
This seems, to me, to be a coping mechanism for not being able to make sense of their privilege and others’ lack thereof. It can also, no doubt, be bald-faced ignorance.
On the flip-side, people who lack certain privileges can often get lost in resentment towards those who have the privileges they do not, and give up whatever agency they do have in their lives to this obsession.
For the purpose of this column, however, I’ll focus specifically on situations where we find ourselves among the privileged.
We all can be considered among the privileged as well as the under-privileged. We may have privilege materially, but suffer from lack of privilege spiritually, for instance.
Or we may be under-privileged materially, but have a solid family and emotional support system – a great privilege, indeed (perhaps one of the greatest).
In whatever regard(s) we are counted among the privileged, we should be careful not to deny our privilege. On a fundamental level, this is ingratitude to God, and we know gratitude to Him is essential to fulfillment.
It gets worse, though. When we ascribe our privilege to our own efforts, we are denying that it is a privilege in the first place. A privilege is something given and can be taken away at any time – it is not something earned that we can hold on to.
So when we believe we’ve earned the good things we have, we’re denying that those things are privileges. Instead, we are claiming that they are wages paid for the work we’ve done. This denial is not what gratitude is made of.
Interestingly, it seems people can deny their privilege(s) not only out of hubris, but also out of a sense of guilt felt due to their having been granted a privilege someone else has not.
Whether a person denies their privilege out of hubris, guilt, or a combination of the two, the result is that their privilege is not taken advantage of.
The denier of privilege is either unable (the prideful one) or unwilling (the guilt-ridden one) to put their privilege to good use – which is to take advantage of their privilege individually at first, then share it collectively and bring that privilege to more people.
The prideful one will take advantage of their privilege individually but balk at the notion they should share it with someone else. They earned it, why should they share it with someone who hasn’t? A society full of prideful privilege will be a very polarized one.
There is more complexity with regards to the guilt-ridden person of privilege. That person refuses to acknowledge that the privilege exists for myriad reasons. Among those reasons could be that they are in a state of general confusion, carrying on the denial of their elders, or enraptured in a misguided sense of egalitarianism.
The possibilities are innumerable and are largely dependent on the life experience of the person in denial. In the end the result is the same, however: they haven’t benefitted from their privilege and, thus, they cannot share that privilege with anyone else; everyone misses out.
Upon further examination, privilege denial seems more like denial of responsibility.
Once one acknowledges their privilege, they feel the burden that they are enjoying this privilege without deserving it in any way.
When one reflects on that they usually feel a responsibility to share that privilege. In other words, they have to get to work.
Most of us would rather take the advantages of a privilege and deny the responsibility that comes with it.
Others would rather give up the advantage for themselves than have to shoulder the burden of sharing it.
Whatever faction we may find ourselves in if we deny privileges we have, they are both ineffective ways of operating. God granted us the privileges He chose to. We don’t get to decide. Responding with arrogance or guilt will both lead us to emptiness.
Acknowledging God’s favor upon us and showing gratitude for it by accepting the responsibility to share that favor with others is an important step towards fulfillment.
When we start sharing our God-given favors and when others’ favors are shared with us, healthy, whole people and communities should be achievable, God willing.