The inconvenience of privilege

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We Westerners enjoy many privileges. We drink clean water from the tap and can defecate in a toilet without paying a fee. Unless we travel abroad, we aren’t at risk of contracting malaria or any number of other diseases. We enjoy a great deal of freedom.  Our human rights are protected. We know English as our native language. We have easy access to the Internet.

If you’re like me, you’re privileged in other ways too. You’ve received formal education; you have several loved ones or friends who provide you emotional support; you don’t feel socially excluded because of poverty; and your growth hasn’t been stunted from childhood malnourishment.

No doubt, some of us have more privileges than others. We may even overlook their significance, or take them for granted.

Some believe we should utilize our privileges for the good of those who don’t have them. I heard a graduate of an elite university recently mention how he feels compelled to use his many privileges to benefit people in the world who are in need. I agree.

But that isn’t easy.

It requires our thinking beyond ourselves. It requires transforming our natural state of self-centeredness into something that is more inclusive of other people. It requires challenging our future plans to ensure they’re not entirely self-focused. That’s rather inconvenient.

How we utilize our privileges is one of life’s greatest responsibilities.

Using our privileges for a greater good is like increasing their capacity. The more we use them to positively affect others, the greater their capacity to do good.

Here are two questions to help us better think through how we use our privileges:

1) Is my track in life exclusively benefiting me and my loved ones?

2) Could I modify my goals to include greater consideration for those who have fewer privileges than I have?

If our responses to these questions are “yes” or even “maybe”, how might we modify the ways we use our privileges so that we increase their capacity to benefit others?