4 min read

A note to self about privilege

When you think about your level of privilege, how does it make you feel? In this article, I share an experience I had and a few things I'm taking away from it.
A note to self about privilege

A Quick Disclaimer

The purpose of this article is not to make anyone feel guilty about how they spend their money. People are entitled to enjoy the benefits of their hard work and spend their cash dollars however they see fit. I know I enjoy spending my money on luxuries that other people might consider unecessary. I don't think the point of life is to deprive yourself of things or experiences and give every penny that you have to someone else who is less fortunate than you. (Actually that's probably just my ego trying to justify my recent purchase of a dumb expensive camera lens. Perhaps if you were a completely selfless person, then you could do that and be happy, but I don't think I'd be happy living a life of frugality). My goal is to earn more so that the overall size of the pie increases, rather than having to alter the sizes of the pie slices, resulting in more money for my family and I AND more money for those in need.

Let me tell you a story.

It's a Saturday. My housemates were out of town, so I had the house to myself. I'd just been studying (inefficiently) for a couple of hours. I was feeling a little peckish, so I decided to check the McDonalds app to see if I had any deals. Lo and behold, there was indeed an offer: two hash browns and a coffee for $4. An absolute steal.

So I went down to my car and set off on the six minute drive to Maccas.

About a minute into the drive, I found myself stopped at a stop sign. A single car drove past me. It was a blue, pre-2000s Honda sedan. There was nothing really special about the car. At the wheel sat a middle-aged man, who appeared to be of South American or Asian heritage (it was somewhat difficult to see, as even though it was only 3pm, it was an overcast and miserable day). He was wearing attire that identified him as a hospital worker. His car appeared to be functioning normally.

A bit anticlimactic right? That's the point, at any other time or on any other day, I wouldn't have thought twice about him.

But there was something about this image that made me stop and think and reflect upon how privileged I am.

Now don't get me wrong, this man could've actually been well-off and chose to drive an old car, but that's not the point. It was just the image of him which provided the catalyst for the epiphany.

In contrast, I was driving around in my parents somewhat new Volkswagen Jetta, with my phone connected to the car via Bluetooth, playing an episode of the All-In podcast (which for context is a group of four rich guys talking about politics, business and tech) with the temperature perfectly set to 24°C, on my way to pick up my takeaway before returning to my room and doing a weekly review on my 2020 Mac Mini and 34" ultra-wide monitor.

If that doesn't scream ENTITLEMENT then I don't know what does.

The thing is, I have done nothing to earn these privileges. I was simply lucky enough to be born in Australia to parents who were able and willing to provide me with all the tools I needed to thrive.

I looked at this middle-aged man, sitting in his old car, returning from working a Saturday shift, likely with a young family at home and I felt self-loathing.

I felt disgusted that I was sitting here in what I feel is a fancy car (at least for a 23-year-old to be driving) when there are people who literally cannot put food on the table for their family, or who have to walk miles and miles to get clean water, or who have to migrate overseas and live and work in terrible conditions to earn enough to send back to their families.

What have I done to earn this?

Ok, you might be thinking to yourself (just as I am now as I write this), so what's the purpose of this article?

Firstly, I wanted this to serve as a reminder of my feelings so that when I inevitably forget about how fortunate I am and I'm feeling sorry for myself, I can re-read it and remember how lucky I am. (It wouldn't be the same if I just wrote this out in my journal, it would get lost there.)

Second, I want this to serve as a catalyst for you too to reflect upon your privilege. If you're reading this, then chances are that you, like me, are in the top 10%.

Thirdly, writing this has made me realise what I've already known in theory to be true, but not actually experienced until now. If I receive something for free and I feel that I haven't done anything to earn or deserve it, I feel ... cheap, guilty, lazy. I'm still quite reliant on my parents for many things and whilst I appreciate everything they do and give me (because it makes my life easier and allows me to focus on university and pursuing other interests, rather than working), I also feel more and more internally motivated to become self-sufficient. Nobody wants a handout. People want to contribute to society and earn their keep. Receiving handouts takes away your independence and make you feel like a child, helpless and at the mercy of the bosom that feeds you. (Man, the word bosom is hilarious, I'm going to try and incorporate it more into my writing.)

Finally, the reason why I'm doing all of this is to help others who didn't get any of the privilege that I've had. These same people often can't even work their way out of their position because factors outside their control prevent them from doing so.

I am incredibly blessed to have been given the life I have. My loved ones and I are happy and healthy, and, with a moderate amount of work, I won't need to worry about the bottom two layers of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The foundation I've been given has set me up to at least live comfortably.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I thank God (yes, I choose to believe in God despite my scientific background) for giving me this opportunity and I hope I can make the most of this life and do him/her and myself proud.

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