Life is a series of ups and downs for everyone, but the easier it is for you to overcome hardships, the more privilege you are likely to have. Society may give lip service to equality, but its systems were originally designed with a very specific type of person in mind and thus tend to benefit people with the characteristics of that prototype. The good news is that if you enjoy some of these benefits, you don't have to squander them. You can leverage them to make the world more equitable.
Start With Gratitude
Many people of faith will extol the value of grace as unearned favor but balk at the idea that they actually experience such unmerited benefits in their everyday lives. You may not feel privileged, but no matter who you are, it is likely that you have at least one attribute that is more accepted or valued in society:
- Mid- to upper class
- U.S. citizen
Recognizing your privilege does not need to produce feelings of shame. In fact, this revelation often comes with a sense of relief or gratitude to have been spared an unnecessarily difficult path to success or well-being. In any area of life where you have privilege, you are experiencing the world as it should be for everyone. Knowing where you stand is the first step of working toward that reality.
Learn About Others' Experiences
The best way to understand the inequities in your society is to listen to those who are treated differently because of an unalterable trait. An internet search or a little research at the public library can lead to articles, books, podcasts or seminars that outline the obstacles that others experience. You may not have the opportunity to participate in a privilege walk, but you can learn a lot from reading through the prompts for one. Be proactive in your own education about equity.
Seek Opportunities To Uplift
There are many ways you can use your privileges for good. Those with good health insurance often express their gratitude by donating to organizations that provide free or affordable care to people who cannot afford it. If you own property, consider paying voluntary land taxes to the people who are indigenous to the area. If people habitually interrupt BIPOC team members in staff meetings, specifically ask for their input and ensure they get credit for their ideas. Most of all, keep learning. The more you discover about your own privilege, the easier it will be to identify and thus rectify instances where it comes into play.
Remain Open to Feedback
It is common for those trying to leverage their privilege to occasionally overstep someone's boundaries. You may find yourself talking over someone whose voice you meant to amplify. You may make generalized assumptions without understanding them in the context of the current situation. Even with the best intentions, eventually you will likely make a mistake.
When someone calls you out on this behavior, it will not feel good. It's not the end of the world, though. Rather than trying to defend what you meant to do, just accept the feedback you are given and work to understand it. If an apology is in order, give it clearly and simply without qualifications. Thank the people who give you feedback for being honest with you, knowing that if they didn't already believe you had good intentions, they probably wouldn't have bothered to do so.
You are not going to solve all of society's problems on your own. You can, however, make a difference in your own circle of influence. By using your privilege to share power with others, you can work toward a more equitable world.