Gratitude and Privilege

If I wrote that you should be grateful for your health, because not everyone is healthy, that wouldn’t be controversial. Some people are simply born with weakened immune systems, congenital defects, or other health issues; some are never really healthy in their lives through no fault of their own. Others have accidents, are injured, or get sick and never fully recover. Your health, however good, is only partly under your control.

If I say to you that your education is something to be grateful for, then there will likely be objections. You had to work for your education, whatever level you achieved, but please remember that others didn’t have the same chance. They didn’t have the same quality of teachers and resources. Some children grow up without access to books or technology, and (being children at the time) one cannot blame them for the results of those deficiencies. Education is something to be grateful for, even when it requires work.

It is important to be grateful for those things that benefit us which we had little to no responsibility. Part of being grateful is understanding that our circumstances were better than those of others, even if we had to put in effort to make the best of them. Someone just as smart, just as driven, and just as talented might be born without health, without access to education, without stable access to food or clean water. If you had those things, be grateful.

That is what it takes to understand privilege. Gratitude.

I did not choose to be white, or a man, or straight. I recognize that each of those affords me comfort and safety and that even when that comfort and safety are not absolute, I have an advantage that I did not earn. I have privilege. It is not my responsibility to be sorry for having it. That does not absolve me of responsibility for trying to share it, to lessen the rift between myself and others who, through no fault of their own, do not share those traits.

It does not matter that I had no part in creating these injustices; my knowledge of them and my ability, no matter how great or small, to repair them make me responsible for addressing them. Even when I did not make the mess, my unwillingness to clean it up would make me partly responsible for every injury that came as a result of leaving it ass I found it. That is what I believe Unitarian Universalism requires.

The word “Privilege” is not a curse nor an accusation. It is a request to look at the bigger picture and see that you have advantages and that others who did not have those same advantages might have worked just as hard and ended up with less. It is a request that you look and see the unfairness of that, and that you help fix it. Being told you have privilege is a request that you show gratitude for the little things in life that you benefit from but didn’t ask for.. It is a request that you help extend those benefits to others, that they might also give their best to the world.

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4 Responses to Gratitude and Privilege

  1. Alissandra September 13, 2016 at 7:40 am #

    I don’t know know how anyone could find this controversial. It’s just fact. A person would have to be extremely ignorant not to appreciate their luck just by birth!

    • Thomas September 13, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

      A few congregations which regularly share our Monday Meditations choose not to do so this week. At least one actually went through our archives and shared an old Meditation rather than this one. Just the word “Privilege” is controversial.

      • Nikki September 17, 2016 at 10:31 am #

        Privilege is a hot topic especially in white spaces. For those afforded the good fortune of being born into an upper and middle class it brings on guilt. And for those on the brink of poverty they cannot see past their class ranking and do not see the advantage of having white skin.

      • Thomas September 17, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

        I am poor myself. I understand that class complicates the issue. Class is a privilege just like race, though, and when black folks with money still get followed around a department store, still get targeted for stop-and-frisk interactions, still face prejudice at any distance just for their skin tone, I still think that race is often the bigger issue.

        That said, when the rich can manipulate the courts, while the poor cannot, and the rich have access to nutrition, education, and health care, regardless of race, I am not discounting that being poor is absolutely a hindrance to controlling your own life.

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