Privilege: A Matter of Perception

I’ve been reflecting on privilege for awhile now, and when I came across this in an article, I thought I would connect my thoughts together in a piece, and share the comic. I’m sure we all know a ‘Richard’ in at least one area of our lives, and I know I sometimes catch myself acting like one. Within all the lessons this story can teach us, I have been reflecting on one in particular: the fact that being aware of our privilege is crucial. By doing so, we are consciously making a decision to not only grow as individuals, but also to be mindful and appreciative of others, consequently further developing and deepening our relationships with everyone. Although becoming aware of our, and others’ privilege is necessary, it’s also important not to let our privilege define who we are, or stop us from becoming who we want to be. Finally, we must recognize that changing the way we think doesn’t require huge sacrifices, or the alteration of our entire lives, but is better shown through everyday actions and decisions. Using our awareness and our privilege itself to grow as people, with people, and to accomplish small, but meaningful things, we can encourage and promote mindfulness, gratitude, growth and change.

In Richard’s case, many people, most importantly his parents, helped him get to where he ends up in the final panels of the story. However, Paula’s parents also helped her just as much, which is essential to think about, especially since this situation and those similar to it occur all the time in our own lives. Part of being aware of our own privilege is recognizing that we aren’t aware of everything everyone else has experienced. In order to respect this, we simply have to be mindful of others’ stories, and how our relationship with them could fit into that. Another part of awareness is to be thankful, and appreciative of everyone who helped us get where we are. It’s not necessary to consequently do everything completely alone, indeed it’s when we work together that we are able to reach the most people and accomplish the most in general. However, we can show our gratitude towards others as a small compensation. If the story had ended differently, Richard may have realized that all the help and encouragement he received were not a part of everyone’s lives. He could have been more thankful for the help, and not have taken it for granted. In turn, others around him may have picked up on what he was doing, therefore increasing his impact, and creating ripples of change further and further out.

On the other hand, we must also be aware that our privilege in no way defines who we are, or who others are. Just as our race, religion, age, sexual identity or orientation, physical features, and any other number of elements associated with us do not define us unless we allow them to, our privilege should not become us, and we should not become our privilege. While there are certain stereotypes around privilege, falling into existing categories, and/or categorizing others only adds to their power and takes away from our own power we have to make a difference. Furthermore, though it often does, ideally our privilege should not hold us back or box us in. Unfortunately, our society is supported by a great amount of prejudice, and assumptions and preconceptions are the backdrop to our lives. As a result, it falls to us, as those who hope, care and want change, to do everything we can to ensure we do not define others and ourselves by privilege, and do not let it hold us, or others back. By doing so, one day we may achieve being on an equal footing, with equal opportunities and an equally bright future of possibility.

Finally, it’s not necessary to sell everything we own and start from scratch, or change our entire lives by doing something as huge as that, in order to show that we recognize our privilege. Although increasing awareness and all that it brings with it may be harder for some than others, nothing drastic externally must happen in order to change our mindset. Similar to showing anyone you care about them, small acts or words of kindness can have just as much impact as extravagant gestures, and may even be more meaningful. Additionally, though our privilege should not define us, what we do with it can, just as any actions can. By employing our privilege to do good, while encouraging others to do the same, we can use the often skewed customs set by our world to our advantage.

In order to fully demonstrate our awareness, we must also demonstrate our willingness to learn from and reflect on our subsequent perceptions. Although everyone encounters hardships at one time or another, we have all had different experiences, and the one way through which we can connect to each other is through mutual understanding to learn from one another. It’s one thing to observe, and another entirely to act on our observations. Speaking for myself, as a very privileged person, I believe the least I can do is to humble myself and be conscious of my impact, while recognizing that the ability to make that impact in the first place, is a privilege in and of itself. I also believe that gratitude is a lifelong skill, and is better practiced as often as possible. As George Matthew Adams said: “There is no such thing as a ‘self-made man’. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.” Please reflect on what I’ve written here. No matter who we are or where we are, awareness is crucial.

Quote and story source:

“This Brilliant Comic Strip On Rich Vs Poor Upbringing Will Humble You.” Digital Synopsis, Digital Synopsis, digitalsynopsis.com/inspiration/privileged-kids-on-a-plate-pencilsword-toby-morris/. 26 Mar. 2017.