This word has been bouncing around my brain. I’ve been confronted with a lot of privilege lately. I see it streaming through news casts and screaming from articles either from the authors and speakers or as the topic of what they are upset about.
Privilege is such a tricky and insidious thing if you’re not aware of it. In some respects it just is a thing that is true in the world. Some have it a bit easier than others. On the face of it nothing wrong with that. And when combined with values of grace and mercy towards others, then there really isn’t an issue.
But all too often I see that it isn’t mixed with grace and mercy….or compassion towards others. Because for that to happen you have to open your eyes and look around. And that is hard. It can be excruciating. It causes fear and sadness and a host of other not comfortable feelings.
I was talking with a friend several years ago whose daughter was the target of an online predator. She was horrified to see pictures of her little girl that should never have been taken, let alone be posted online. But from her standpoint there must be something wrong with her daughter to have done that. Well, no. Her daughter was 13, more than 10 years shy of having a fully developed brain. She was not at all experienced in life. And she was taken in by a person online who has honed these skills at manipulating people to get what they want. My friend’s fear and her privilege were working in tandem to cause a shaming scenario for this young girl. She couldn’t process that she herself had the wisdom of experience and the benefit of a fully formed brain. Her fear cut her off from messages about how her life and her daughter’s life had been different. And her privilege came in to judge that baby girl and try to shame her into better behaviour.
Now, no judgement to my friend. I have no idea how I would react to my own daughter in a similar situation. I don’t know all the places my fear would lead me. I can only hope that my experience will temper that fear if/when the hard stuff starts to happen with her or my son for that matter. Because let’s face it, life happens. And life is messy. Hard stuff occurs regularly.
But I mention my friend’s experience because when I look around at the world I see similar scenarios playing out in people’s responses to stimuli. Especially when the thing or person to judge is much further from their actual sphere of family or community. I see people who worked hard and made a life for themselves thinking anyone who doesn’t, just should have. They don’t look back to see the supports and the abilities that got them there. And they don’t consider that others maybe don’t have those supports or those abilities. I see young girls that are caught up in the sex trade, and listen to people’s judgments of them. If they are young enough and it provokes their sensibilities, the man will get the blame and whoever pimped her. But if she’s 17? I see far too many people who would blame her as an out of control teen. But they haven’t dug into the history. What family supports did she lack in her young life? How much abuse did she see or experience growing up? How young was she when people took her and manipulated her into what others see as a 17 year old prostitute? And it’s a function of privilege unmixed with grace and mercy towards others when that happens.
And I am not immune. People the rub me the wrong way in life….I find it really hard to not let my privilege mix with fear or anger or both. People who abuse others…it’s so hard to see them as victims too. All I see is their hideous crimes, and my own history of abuse, and I write them off. But the world won’t heal until we treat every victim of horrendous abuse whether they became an abuser or they ran from it, as worthy of our grace and mercy. We won’t know peace until we can say to the other “you are no less significant that I am”