I used to say that I don’t want to owe anything to my parents. Until I realized that I owe everything to them anyway.
I used to frown at the thought of ever asking them for money to buy my future house. Now I realize that it is thanks to the house I was raised in that I became the person I am.
I used to be ashamed of the privilege of coming from a family that will always grant me a safety net, whatever I do. Now I understand that instead of allowing such a gift to be consumed with shame, I should just take it, say “thank you,” and leverage it in the best way I can.
I don’t know, is it just me? Or are more of us — “the privileged” educated upper-middle class millennials — living in a conviction that whatever we do with our lives, we should achieve it with our own bare hands, getting them even dirtier than we need to, just to prove to the world that we are capable?
I see this notion that you are the sole creator of your own success. Everywhere. I hear it in the voices of people criticising leftist policies and social support for those who weren’t lucky enough to be born into nurturing environments. These critics say things along the lines of:
“I don’t see why I would give my taxes to those who aren’t capable of taking their lives into their own hands. If I can do it, anyone can do it.”
No, dude— not anyone. And your own success is usually not the fruit of your individual work, either. It is the whole community that raised you, educated and holidayed you that should be credited. You are just the name on the diploma for the collective effort of your parents, grandparents, teachers, peers AND yourself.
This is something to be recognized — but by no means to be ashamed of.
Within the Polish culture where I originated, I can see the reason for being ashamed of my social and kin-related privileges. In a society that loves martyrs and for the long years of communism rewarded mediocrity, having a socioeconomic advantage easily becomes a stigma.
You don’t realize it until you leave your social bubble, of course. But once you do — and I advocate that you should — others who are less privileged than you may ridicule you. If not in right in your face — then maybe just on social media. I am actually not entirely sure how the shame for my privileges was first sparked.
But I know that for the longest time, I tried to deny my default set of resources. I was driven by wanting to prove that I don’t need my parents’ financial support. That I can “make it” on my own. That I am not any less capable than those who built their lives despite the struggles that I never had to face.
So, I created some struggle for myself, to see if I could cope.
I think that this may be, in essence, what “we privileged people” do when we set off on journeys to “find ourselves” and “push ourselves outside the comfort zone.” That’s all fine — we probably need a rite of passage like that.
But let’s recognize the fact that we can afford a rite of passage such as going on a trip to Nepal precisely because of our privilege. And, again— that this is nothing to be ashamed about.
Instead of feeding shame, we need to focus on leveraging our privilege in a way that best serves us — and the world.
Kay Bolden wrote about this recently in Weaponizing My Own Privilege. Her story is an account of a moment when Kay realized that, while being “a black woman of a certain age,” she still has a significant amount of privilege compared to many other people.
Instead of focusing on the comparison, however, she says:
“Here’s what I can do:
I can stop feeling guilty.
Through no fault of my own, I was born here, now, in this culture, with whatever gifts I may possess and whatever challenges I may face. The only thing I should feel guilty about is if I fail to act. Fail to speak up for the voiceless. Fail to work toward equality.”
This is what I’m talking about. The only thing I should feel guilty about is if I fail to act. Because feeling guilty about my own privilege only means wasting the inherent power that comes with it. And instead of wasting it, we should foster this power in the right direction.
And you know what? Rather than feeling guilty or ashamed of the advantages I have been given in life — I choose to be grateful for them now. I will not try to claim that I am where I am thanks to my own work exclusively.
I am aware that I wouldn’t be able to get into freelance writing through trial and error if it wasn’t for the financial security that my parents provided.
I probably wouldn’t discover meditation and explore my spirituality so early in life, if I wasn’t free to travel, search, and work odd jobs for a few years.
Even being able to write these very words is thanks to the fact that I was fortunate enough to receive an education which empowered me to think in a certain way.
It is not my personal success that I am currently experiencing. It is the result of the work of my community and society as a whole — under which I simply happen to sign my name.
Realizing this makes me want to use my privilege to give back to society. To play my part in making the world a better place, also for those who granted me all the possibilities. To put my brick to the foundation of a more equal, peaceful and abundant reality of tomorrow.
And this requires me to stop acting as if I was less privileged than I am. With all the life advantages, I was also given the responsibility to give. And that’s no reason to carry around shame.
I’d rather go to work — as joyfully and gracefully as I can.