How Privilege Works

There are 3 things to know about privilege –

1. The definition of privilege is misleading. Privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people” We aren’t privileged based on this definition, are we? What about all those rich folk we know?

2. We are privileged when the next lucky break has a diminishing return in terms of our ability to solve for real needs. There comes a time when the next lucky break doesn’t matter as much as the previous one. For some of us, it is when we went to a college or graduate school that catapulted us in a league we couldn’t have imagined. For others, it is after we worked at a little known company that ended up doing wonderfully well. After this, sure, the next lucky break would make us more comfortable. But, it wouldn’t be life changing in the same way. That’s a sign of privilege.

3. Privilege accumulates over time. An obvious source of privilege is family wealth and power. We’ve all heard some variant of Jeb Bush or someone else we know to be privileged calling themselves “self made” and snickered.

But, I’d argue many of us are guilty of that hypocrisy. The reason it is so hard to pinpoint is because it accumulates over time. Once you get that lucky break – born to parents who have the means to educate you well or born in a country filled with opportunity  or got that internship that changed your life – privilege compounds. And, a few years in, it is nearly impossible to look back objectively.

I was talking to a friend about this and he pointed me to a comic that nailed describing this. Thanks “The Pencilsword” and Toby Morris for an awesome illustration.

 

Good weekends

I’ve asked myself what makes a good weekend for many years.

A few weeks back, I finally had an epiphany. I realized that my definition of a good weekend involves four actions in order or priority – rest, connect, learn something and building something.

Rest means getting to sleep in for one of the two days and watching a game of football/soccer whenever possible. Connect involves spending quality time with the framily – ideally with some time outdoors.  But, a good weekend doesn’t feel complete until I feel I’ve learnt something and attempted to build something.

The best part about these four priorities is that I recognize they are a luxury. There are many on the planet who don’t get to take the weekend off.

So, these two days are a wonderful weekly reminder of the enormous amount of privilege in my life and, as a result, of how much I owe.

Maybe acknowledging our privilege with gratitude is what weekends are all about. We get to define what “good” is. And, in the process of doing so, we are reminded that there is so much to be grateful for.

Learn as we go

Of course we’ll learn as we go. We don’t really have a choice if we want to live our lives with a semblance of consciousness.

But, foregoing an opportunity to prepare when we have the chance is irresponsible and, generally, foolish. In nearly every kind of work, a little bit of extra thought and preparation go a long way. We’ve all been there – that supplier who came well prepared, the interview candidate who demonstrated her thoughtfulness and the spouse who showed she cared.

There are more humans on the planet than we’d like who don’t have the luxury to take the time to prepare. So, preparation is both an opportunity and a great privilege.

And, with great privilege comes great responsibility.

Preparation is how we do small things with extraordinary love. And, that extraordinary love and care is what makes the world a better place for all of us.

Unhappiness is a privilege

Unhappiness is our dissatisfaction at a particular situation. On the other hand, an advantage granted to a few is what we call privilege. And, unhappiness is an incredible privilege even if it isn’t obvious to us at first.

If we spend time being unhappy, it can feel as if we have no choice. But, of course, that would only happen if we did have a choice.

Being conscious of this privilege is important because small bouts of dissatisfaction are necessary for progress. It is dissatisfied human beings who’ve made progress possible. But, that assumes this dissatisfaction is temporary and directed at things we control. The moment it isn’t, we inevitably spiral into unhappiness territory. And, that’s largely useless.

So, there are two things to remember the next time you find yourself unhappy. First, it is an opportunity to make things better – to improve the situation or to improve yourself.

Second, it is a privilege. So, it calls for gratitude, not unhappiness.

Cosco ball

A long-time close friend and I were playing tennis this morning when we opened up a new pack of 3 tennis balls. Now, a new tennis ball with its shine and smoothness is a thing of beauty. As we grinned at each other, I asked him if he remembered a time when we used to be so excited about a 25 rupee Cosco ball. He did.

We used to play cricket in the streets of Chennai city growing up. And, new tennis balls were a treasure. Every few weeks, one of us would get permission from our parents to buy a new Cosco ball. Each ball cost 25 rupees. And, we would play till these balls broke. By that stage, the ball would have lost its entire exterior “fur” and all that would remain would be a dark green core. So, every new ball was a treat.

We are still stingy with opening up new tennis balls when we play tennis today. However, we are at a stage in our life when affording a new tennis ball is a non issue. Somewhere along the way, thanks to a combination of a tremendous amount of luck, some hard work and intention, things have changed. It sounds like a small thing. But, I recognize it is a really big deal.

We’re at an interesting point in our history as human beings. I am of the belief that we have two big challenges that lie ahead. First, we need to figure out how we can live on this planet in a more sustainable manner. Second, we need to figure out what we will all do as machines take away more and more of our jobs. The second issue is staring all of us in our faces as discontent around this has fueled the rise of populism in many places around the world. These are important questions and the answers to them are unclear.

One the one hand, I hope it’ll become clearer to me as to how I can play a role in helping solve these big problems. It isn’t, as yet. On the other, I take these thoughts about the big problems we face in combination with my realization about those Cosco tennis balls as a good reminder to banish any kind of complaining in my life. I may face challenges on a day to day basis. But, these aren’t really problems.

So, this thanksgiving, I am very thankful for being able to afford those tennis balls. It is a real privilege to be able to take a day off without too many worries and to play. I recognize there is a lot of good work to be done to make things better for all of humanity. But, the first step is to recognize and appreciate this privilege. And, the second step is to accept that with great privilege comes great responsibility.

Onward.

Happy thanksgiving.

Values privilege

Values are values only when they costs us money. So, if you care a ton about honesty, you might have to choose to buy all your movies instead of watching them pirated. Watching them pirated might be free. But, we have to trade off whether we care more about honesty or the money.

What happens when we don’t have any extra money then?

Values go out the door.

If you are a family that is struggling to make ends meet, you have no bandwidth to think or care about much else. It is all about survival. And, if it means survival of our group at the cost of another, so be it.

The Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains this beautifully.

Image Credit: Simply Psychology

If our basic needs aren’t met, then values are a privilege we can’t afford. And, in a world where inequality continues to be on the rise, this will continue to be the case for a growing segment of the population. We will have to find a way to deal with this.

There is no way around it.