This is not an easy article to write, although it’s necessary. It has been several years in the making to reach this point.
Let me set the scene:
- I am white
- Born in Australia
- Own a car
- Have a home
- Have clean drinking water
- Go to a corporate job
- Earn part of my living from writing
- Am surrounded by technology — phone, computer, laptop, tablet, etc
This list of attributes that I used to take for granted or brush off as nothing, meaning that I live in privilege. If you’re reading this article on Medium, it means you probably paid the subscription fee and are living in a country that has access to the platform. That means there is a chance, you live in privilege too.
It’s important to understand what that privilege means so that it doesn’t work against us and we understand just how good life already is before we complain or do something stupid.
Facing the advantage
It is not easy to admit that you are privileged. We associate the word “privilege” with being given an unfair advantage that takes away some of our shine and helps explain part of our results.
Privilege on its own is not enough, although it’s not nothing either.
Admitting privilege in a world that pretends we’re all equal can be a dangerous viewpoint to take on.
The risk of bringing the trolls to your front doorstep is real when you admit privilege. But to not admit privilege is to be ignorant and that’s how I have regrettably lived most of my life (hence the need for this article).
I’ve been given a head start
To have graduated high school and been given the chance to study sound engineering is a huge privilege. Those years of studying sound were some of the best and the fact that I never took a job in the field is yet another sign of privilege.
Imagine that: paying huge amounts of money to study something you never end up making a living from just for, you know, the hell of it. That was my education.
Then I went and worked in the world of startups with my brother, where you could fail, lose money and always start again. There was always a way if you were clever, obnoxious, or even witty enough to start again. That was another hidden privilege that I ignored until recently.
A warm house to come home to
I live in an apartment with mostly university students. It’s in a nice suburb but is really just student accommodation in disguise — sort of like putting lipstick on a pig you could say. And I chose this living option.
To be blunt, I could afford better and chose not to. Maybe it was out of fear or maybe the FIRE Movement has taken its toll on me. With that said, student accommodation in Australia is better than most places in the world.
You get two large bathrooms, heating and cooling, a balcony, peace and quiet due to thick walls, two car spaces, a train station close enough to walk to in a few minutes, acres of parkland to call your backyard (and fly your drone), dozens of trendy Melbourne cafes with many substitutes for milk that you’ve never heard of and are of course vegan, and most importantly, nice neighbors that say high and are not violent towards you.
By studying other parts of the world and visiting them, I realized that there are plenty of locations where your neighbors live next to you and actually want to kill you.
Peaceful neighbors are a big deal and something that the inherent privilege of my life had blinded me too.
Technology to connect the world
As I said earlier, I have every piece of technology that you can slap a one thousand dollar or more price tag on and completely forget how overpriced it is compared to the manufacturing cost of producing it in an often slave labor environment.
This technology brings me closer to my family, who live far away, allows me to connect with people from other countries and lets me earn a six-figure living that looks impossible to many. Without technology, my writing career and income would be completely different.
That is the privilege that technology gives us and the hard truth is that many places around the globe don’t have that.
The point of seeing your own privilege
The reason to acknowledge any privilege we have is two-fold.
1. There’s no reason to be ungrateful
When we see the privilege we are lucky enough to have access to — because pf the life lottery we accidentally won thanks to the destination the egg and sperm were located in at the time of conception — we find a solution to being ungrateful.
Many of us learn to be ungrateful despite the privilege that surrounds us and should mostly prevent it. The privilege we have hides our ability to be grateful. And that is exactly what happened to me.
I became ungrateful because I thought I needed more money or more online success or more likes to be happy.
I couldn’t be grateful because my privilege was telling me that I deserved more.
If you have any of the elements of privilege I described, you already have enough. Start by appreciating that first.
2. You can help more people
Until I could see my own privilege, I couldn’t be helpful to more people. Privilege lies to us. See if you recognize any of these:
“They need to try harder.”
“They are lazy.”
“They are born a loser.”
“Why don’t they just get help?”
“Why don’t they get out of there?”
“Why won’t they get out of my way?”
It is easy to describe someone’s lack of privilege with your own ignorance and use that as justification for looking down on strangers rather than standing up and helping them with the luxuries you’ve been given.
If you have any form of privilege, there’s an opportunity to help more people with it, thus improving their life and your own in the process.
Privilege can be a burden or an opportunity
It’s a burden when we pretend we are not privileged and it’s an opportunity when we admit that we are and decide to do something useful with it.
I had to face my own privilege before I could ever find the courage to help another person. If you’re looking for a strategy to help more people or give your life some added meaning, see the privilege you have and write a list of ways you can use it for good, not further self-indulgence.
Life is pretty good
If you’re reading this article, you already have some level of privilege. I’m here to say that based on that fact, life is pretty good for us already.
A hard question, then, that we all have to face at some point in our life is this:
If life is pretty good, is that enough?
You don’t have to do anything with your privilege. You can use it to reach level one and be more grateful in life. That’s a nice little outcome right there. Or you can use your privilege to reach level two in life and that’s what I am experimenting with.
I’m not there yet and don’t have this privilege thing worked out. I am a dreamer, though, and want to imagine a world where privilege is used in a useful way to progress the human race, not hold it back.
If you’re privileged, face it and see the opportunity you can create with it.