I’m a white male who was born into a loving and smart middle class family with a big support network of extended family. My family prioritized good schools, even when it was a financial stretch to afford them, and as a result I had the opportunity to be around great teachers, all of whom I remember to this day, as well as peers with similar situations. I may not exactly be the poster boy of privilege, but I’m probably not that far off either.
Everything I write comes from this privileged background. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about that, since it is my reality. Several people brought up privilege in my recent survey, though, so I wanted to address it and also share what I think are some productive ways to think about it.
First, I think that privilege is a great thing. My grandparents grew up dirt poor (and first generation immigrants on one side), and through two generations they were able to get where we are today. America (and the world) had MORE problems then, but even so, that sort of mobility was possible. (And yes, I understand that there are some key things that are worse today).
When thinking about privilege I think we should focus on how to get more privilege to people who don’t have it rather than demonizing those who do. For example, billionaires are very unpopular these days, but I love them. My life has unambiguously become better due to many of the billionaires. Rather than pick at their faults, which they all certainly have, we should be focusing on how we can create an easier path for less privileged people to get to that same level.
This is a big reason that I’m a huge proponent of universal basic income. I think it would eliminate a huge portion of the functional gap between the haves and have-nots. In my experience as well as the experience of those around me, the biggest change in ability comes once you can live extremely frugally and have most of your time to yourself.
One of the things that most bothers me about the idea of privilege is the victim mentality behind it. Even if you are an actual victim, feeling like one is not productive. My wife grew up poor and didn’t own shoes until she was a teenager, but she never felt like a victim, and instead did everything she could to improve her situation. By the time I met her she had a master’s degree, significant savings, and many pairs of shoes. I think this story is true for a lot of immigrants in our country, a group that we traditionally see as underprivileged.
In a more general sense, those who tend to succeed are those who focus on their strengths and tackle obstacles where they have agency or leverage. Those who tend not to succeed are those who focus on things they can’t change.
All that said, I think there’s very little worse than lucky people like myself who don’t realize that they’re lucky. I had it easier than my parents, they had it easier than my grandparents, and they had it easier than my great-great-grandparents. As I’ve written about before, a huge part of my success (not just financial) is due to factors I had zero control over. I am proud of what I have done, but realistically I’ve only run the last mile of a marathon that was mostly run for me.
We should also realize that even if we have less relative privilege than others (which is true for all but one person, whoever he is), we all have a certain amount of absolute privilege for which we should be thankful. We were all born, we all have access to computers, we all have unlimited opportunity ahead of us, we have access to infinite amounts of knowledge, we can make friends, we have self-awareness, and we have infinite other gifts.
Privilege exists, we’re all recipients of it to a certain extent, and since privilege is a part of where we started in life, it is woven into our paths. We can’t escape that, and there’s no reason to try to. Let’s acknowledge our privilege, be grateful for it, help those who don’t have it succeed in spite of it, and have compassion for everyone.
Photo is a wild donkey I saw near Lee Canyon Ski Mountain in Vegas. So cool!
No Tea Time with Tynan tomorrow, but I will be back on April 4th! There will be a loose theme of Home Improvement (improving your space, lighting, DIY, home automation, etc), but you can ask questions about anything. It’s really fun to connect with readers and answer questions. Subscribe to my YouTube channel and enable notifications, or just set an alarm.
Here’s the link: Tea Time with Tynan #3