Sunday, June 8, 2014

I Get To Choose

At this point, there's very little that I have to do that I don't want to do. That's arguably a partial function of having done a lot of things right so far, but in fact I've committed a number of sins that for someone less well insulated could have made a mess out of everything. And now I get to choose. Almost all of my "extra" duties are voluntary, and if I wanted to unvolunteer, I could do so.

This is a self-reproducing privilege. I get to pick extras I want, which means I can pick stuff that makes me look good, which means I "earn" the right to do more choosing.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

I Represent Nobody

One of the great privileges of being a white guy is that nobody looks at your actions and uses them to condemn all white guys. I don't have to represent anybody but myself.

Fact is, I'm not sure I can imagine how it would feel, what I would do differently, what would change in my life if I were representing somebody else. For a white guy, that sort of thing is hard to fathom-- what would be like if people were on our case for making the team look bad, letting down the side, being just one of Those.

It's not that I don't have any concept of how to devote myself to causes or identities larger than my own-- from my work to my marriage to my home town, I think I get that. But I'm pretty sure there's a substantive difference in being able to pick those as opposed to having them thrust upon me by birth. I'm free to choose my affiliations, or unchoose them, as I see fit.

I think the blind spot that creates for privileged people is the belief that people are free to choose their own identity, that who we are is something we get to decide for ourselves. "We must lot set of circumstances define us" is one of those things said only by people who have never lived in overwhelming circumstances. If you're born into poverty or the wrong race in a racist place, simply redefining yourself is not that simple. This blind spot can lead to the notion that people who don't overcome their circumstances just aren't trying very hard. Put another way, we aren't going to look down at you because you ARE poor, but because you STAY poor. As one well-privileged commentator said (on the Daily Show), if you don't like being poor, well, just stop!

Sometimes people's circumstances hem them, even overwhelm them. Instead of condemning them for not being changing themselves, we might offer them some help, or at least some empathy.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I Get To Make Mistakes

One of the privileges that comes with being from a financially stable family, being white and being male is that I get to make mistakes.

Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has moments in which they use poor judgment or make poor choices. One of the advantages that comes with privilege is that mistakes don't have to come with huge costs. Privilege means getting a second chance, means people let it go because they know you're really a good person.

How do you handle that?

I don't think it's useful to have survivor's guilt, a sort of version of the white liberal guilt of the sixties. Somebody else lost chunks of their life over things that you also did with far less consequence-- I'm not sure there's anything you can do about that, exactly, nor do I think volunteering to wear a hair shirt really helps anybody.

I think this is another pay it forward kind of situation. Somebody paid for your mistake, your flaw, your screw up, your bad judgment. That means you owe a debt, and like most life debts, you probably can't pay back the person that you actually owe.

But I can pay it forward. I can remember, when I'm the person who catches someone else's mistake, or when I'm simply someone who knows about their error-- I can remember that I owe a debt for something just as bad. I owe. And the very least I can pay back is in understanding and decency to the person who is on the bottom. I don't have to be understanding-- maybe the transgression is something beyond my comprehension. And I don't have to giev a free pass-- maybe the mitsake is one that still has to be apid for, no matter what. But at a bare basic minimum, I can be kind. I can see the other person's mistake as proof that they are human, not proof that they are less than.

Put another way-- the fact that I didn't have to pay for my mistakes does not mean that I can forget I ever made them. The measure of a person's mistake is not how big the punishment was, and getting away with something doesn't mean you didn't do anything wrong. So part of privilege and the recognition of it is recognizing that different consequences do not erase the similarity of transgression. If we can see that, it can help overcome one of the worst side effects of privilege-- the belief that my privilege somehow proves that I am fundamentally different from lesser people. Because I'm not.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Everyone Pays

I'm generally aware that when I failed at marriage, my ex-wife and children paid a price for that failure. So did other members of our families and some people who were near enough to get hit. Throughout my life some women have paid for my failure to grow up and make real decisions about what I wanted. When I have been hard and stressed, my students have paid for that. Nowadays I am loose and relaxed and my students pay for that, too.

In short, I've made an assortment of mistakes and carried a complex of flaws with me through life, and people who are close to me pay for thoise.

I say this not in a self-torturing I'm so awful kind of way. Beating yourself up for your failings is just self-indulgent. Recognizing that you owe a debt to everyone and the best way to pay it back is to do better-- that's the thing.

This is an issue of privilege as well, because one of the benefits that comes with privilege is the chance to screw up and not have to pay for it yourself. For the privileged, the cost is spread around and other chances are given. For those living without privilege, it's less easy to get that second chance, that opportunity to move on and leave your costs behind.

But to live with privilege should mean being mindful of the debt that you owe. Anybody who claims not to owe anybody anything is a fool. He is that guy who always lets somebody else buy dinner and never thinks to take his turn.

If you are human, people are paying your way through this world in a hundred different ways, and you owe them all. Often you will never get to pay them back. It's useful, I think, to imagine that your debt is not just owed to individuals but to the world at large. You may not be able to pay back, but you can always pay forward. And you can adjust your attitude-- when the moment comes that you must pay for someone else's screw-up, no matter how small, better to think of it as paying off your bill than being hit by a cost that you don't believe you owe.

I owe more than I will ever pay back even if I live to be 100. But I have th privilege of getting to pay back at least some of what I owe.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The New Project

Occasional online expressions of gratitude were insufficient.

If there's one thing I like to be pissed off about, it's the ways in which people with privilege fail to make proper use of it. It's frustrating-- there are things that I think powerful corporations and rich guys ought to do in order to be decent human beings and make the world a better place. At the same time, I don't believe that having the government step in and forcibly, say, redistribute wealth is okay, either.

The world would be a better place if those big rich guys behaved decently. How to fix that? It's a puzzler.

But then it occurs to me that there's a related problem I can fix.

I am a teacher in a small town area. I'm not filthy rich, but I make a good wage, particularly compared to the people whose taxes pay my wages. I sent my kids to college. I have one of the marks of privilege, which is that I have screwed some things up in my life but have not had my life derailed because of it.

I am living with privilege.

If I want to have a conversation about how people with privilege should behave, I can start by talking to my mirror. So, that's the goal here.

If anyone reads this, it will be because they stumbled across it or because somewhere down the line I decide that I've accumulated enough good stuff to share it. In the meantime, I want to weekly, mindfully address my own challenge-- how do I live with my own privilege in a mindful and responsible fashion:?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A wife who moves at the same pace that I do. Which is amazing for a variety of reason. But as we sit here just reading and writing and working quietly in the same room with occasional breaks for saying "I love you" or a kiss or a look, I'm more lucky than I can believe.

Monday, December 16, 2013

My children love each other enough to take a weekend (plus travel for Barbara and Nick) to make their own Christmas celebration, including some of the things they enjoyed growing up. I am grateful that they have each other.