And Other Realizations About My Western, 21st Century Privilege
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a few other countries in my life. I love seeing other people speak their mother tongue, eat food that’s strange to me, see centuries-old architecture. Most of the time when I travel, it’s pretty laid-back and my thoughts swirl around a certain cathedral or the intricacies of bagged milk (looking at you Canada). But every now and then I visit a place that, for better or for worse, makes me feel rich.
And not even rich in the I-have-a-smartphone-and-continual-access-to-wifi sort of way. I mean in the part of me that’s thankful to walk around where I live and not see trash everywhere. Or broken-down brick buildings. Rich in the sense that I drew the cosmic lottery when I was born. I was born in the United States of America, where even the poorer members of our country are miles ahead of other countries.
Seeing some people in those situations has given me real appreciation for how fortunate I’ve been. I entered the world with a head-start on so many people. Clothing, food, water, education, these were all offered to me without question the moment I was born. That is a form of privilege. Undeniable. Unequivocal.
And the purpose of this article is not to spread guilt about being genuinely fortunate. I don’t think that’s beneficial for anyone. I want it to spark thought about what more we can do for those who have not been dealt the same hand in life. My gratitude doesn’t lead me to guilt, it leads me to change. Change my viewpoint of the world, change my actions. It leads me to have more empathy for everyone.
The Ignorance Bubble
It’s so easy in our technology-driven world to be trapped in a bubble of ignorance. A bubble of comfortable complacency. And I’m no different! I get so distracted about scrolling through my Instagram feed for the funniest meme, or worrying about the intricacies of my everyday life that I can forget the plight of so many other people (can you tell that I’m listening to the great Bob Marley as I write this?). It’s interesting how everything in our society is made to pull our attention and then return that attention to ourselves. The clothes I have aren’t good enough, I’m not fit enough, I don’t socialize enough. By keeping us distracted on their ads and, in turn, ourselves, we become crippled from seeing the broader world. From making actual change.
It’s easy to become lulled into a state of quiet ignorance. Other people’s problems don’t matter because they’re not affecting me. This thinking, intentional or not, deprives us of empathy and the drive to help others. A thought-process born out of ignorance doesn’t necessarily mean innocence.
Once again, the purpose of this isn’t to increase unneeded guilt. But hopefully it’s a rallying cry for people to make personal introspection. I know that just from writing this, I’m going to look up local non-profits and organizations that work to better people’s lives. Obviously that can mean a lot of things, but it’s about starting where you are. I know I have to do something that feels bigger than myself. Because when compared with the rest of the world, I’m rich.