“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” — Dalai Lama
Disclaimer: I don’t share my musings because I think I’m ‘right’ or that I need to be ‘agreed with’. I share them simply because they ask for expression.
I’ve been pondering the word, ‘privilege’ lately, contemplating what it means to me, wondering why it elicits such a flush of irritation. I’m acutely aware of the unease it provokes in my body when I hear it used in conversation. This has been my prompt for this month’s exploration.
To me, privilege is a loaded word steeped in comparison, external validation and separation. In its simplest form, privilege is a belief that someone has more of something deemed of value than another. More stuff, more status, more money, more power, more time, more luck, more health, more mobility, more talent, more education, more prestige, more ‘love’, more ‘success’, more ‘freedom’—more of whatever is coveted by our dominant culture.
Privilege however, is a nominalization. It exists only within the confines of the conditioned mind. It is a byproduct of the cultural rules we’ve accepted as true.
Privilege implies hierarchy. If I believe myself to be privileged, I believe myself to be better than. I am therefore caught in entitlement and self-importance. If I believe someone else to be privileged, I believe myself to be lesser than. I am trapped in scarcity and PMS (Poor Me Syndrome). Both perspectives are little more than fallacious stories about a fictitious sense of self-worth.
I don’t believe in privilege.
Language is adept in its ability to pervert truth. Privilege is a word we’ve blindly accepted to define our standing in an externally sourced world—an illusion. Privilege is a sham—a copout from the soul. It can be a convenient excuse to play small—a victim to one’s circumstances, or to dominate—under the guise of self-importance.
There are many who vehemently cling to their deeply entrenched beliefs about privilege. In some way, I suppose this attachment serves them. But it doesn’t serve me, nor does it serve those I care about. In my world, privilege is none existent.
Believing in privilege negates equality. If I believe myself to be privileged, I believe that my way of life, my skin color, my race, gender, status, religion, beliefs, etc. is better than another. If I believe in privilege, it’s because my culture tells me I am privileged. If I accept this belief, I accept the illusion. By default, I then separate from the ‘other’. There is no equality in separation.
I realize that civilization has created an entire story/belief system around privilege (and lack thereof), but let’s step outside all emotional attachment and see the story for what it is: a big lie. The only way to change a story is to rewrite it. In rewriting the story of ‘privilege’ in my own life, I liberate myself. I liberate the ‘other’.
I clearly see the madness made manifest from the mental constructs (nominalizations) we’ve accepted as real (such as privilege). The madness is everywhere. It’s pervasive. It’s destructive. But I refuse to buy into the madness. Privilege is not a part of my story (was it ever?). I despise it and I refuse to perpetuate it by buying into the belief system of privilege. Just like I refuse to buy into the belief systems of animal consumption, sexism, racism, speciesism, etc. I realize that my choice to remove these mental obstructions from my life do not change the world, because the collective consciousness of 7.4 billion is working against me. But it changes my world. My single pinprick sheds a tiny beam of light on an antiquated old story. This is how it begins in a David vs. Goliath world. We must start somewhere. As David Stevens said, “A lie is a lie, even if everyone believes it. The truth is the truth, even if nobody believes it.” The truth is, privilege is a lie.
Even if I’m a team of one who operates from this perspective, it makes a difference in how I live my life. As a result, it makes a difference in the lives of those I touch. I live from the Soul outward, not from the illusion/lie inward. Bottom line: we are all connected. I live my life from this deep, primal knowing—always striving to be better—for the simple reason that I care.
As Gandhi said, “Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”
To believe in privilege is to believe in the lie. To believe in the lie, perpetuates the lie. The rigidity of the lie created from our mental constructs has us believe that industrial civilization is worthy of envy; that skin color, gender, race, and species, are worthy of inequality; that status and wealth are meaningful markers for self-worth; that borders and boundaries are real. It’s all bullshit.
We live in a world of rampant inequality because of the soulless systems created by an industrialized machine. Our domestication binds us to these systems, but if we are willing to look beyond the veil, we liberate our minds. Liberation begins by freeing ourselves from the language that oppresses and separates. The Soul knows no inequality. It knows no separation. It knows no privilege. This begs the question: At which point do we surrender the stories from our history to live from a deeper knowing right now?
On a recent road trip to a nearby community, I met a homeless man who has since captured my heart. I discovered ‘Wolf’ sitting at a coffee shop patio with his dog and an old laptop computer. A shopping cart was parked nearby, piled high with his belongings, a few bags of pet food and a cat carrier with his two lovely feline companions. My fervent love for animals compelled me to check on their situation. The cats were wearing harnesses attached to long leashes for mobility. They were happily exploring their surroundings when I ventured over to say hello. Startled by my presence, one of the cats jumped into the open carrier for safety. It was an interesting setup, but it seemed to work.
My curiosity with the cats sparked a conversation with Wolf. He walked over with a big smile on his bushy bearded face, introduced himself, and shared the elaborate names of his feline companions (which evade me now). His love for this furry duo was palpable. As we struck up a conversation, I noticed his dog—who was tied up by the patio and lying on bare cold pavement—was shivering. I pointed this out, and without a trace of defense, Wolf owned it, admitting that he had spent more time than anticipated on the patio without providing adequate ground protection for his trembling canine companion. His remorse was authentic.
A spontaneous decision prompted me to run over to the car and bring to him one of the sleeping bags used to cover the back hatch space for our own canine family. I grabbed a spare leash and brought this to him as well. I placed the sleeping bag on the pavement and gently encouraged his dog to explore. The smells from our canine trio provided a sensory explosion for his eager nostrils. As he explored the sleeping bag, I placed a section over his back in an attempt to warm him.
I live in Canada and winters are notably cold here. As his dog explored the smells on the sleeping bag, I carried on my conversation with Wolf, asking if he had a warm place to stay at night. With sadness, he told me that he lives in a tent by the lake. He told me that he does the best that he can to provide for his animals and that he would love nothing more than to have a home where they would be safe and warm. My heart broke. His compassion was genuine.
We shared a few more words before parting ways. He was deeply grateful for my meager offerings. I felt grateful for our connection. As my partner, our three dogs and I slowly drove away, I watched Wolf’s dog finally lie down on the warm sleeping bag. I burst into tears.
This prompted a familiar heaviness in my heart, a wondering why we live in a world that is so out of balance.
Why is it that some are born to the entitlement that accompanies our cultural definition of wealth and power, while others are born to the war torn streets of Syria, the rape culture of India, the overcrowded filth of China, or the raging misogyny of Afghanistan?
Why was I born to a culture that I hate—an industrialized, patriarchal enslavement program of consumption and destruction so blindly desired by the rest of the world?
We live in a world of systemic cruelty, rationalized to maintain an antiquated story. From animals and the natural world, to women, children, the elderly and those forgotten on the streets. Few are spared. The minds of the collective are poisoned by separation sickness. Dissonance and denial are epidemic. Insanity is the norm. The illusion that we’ve deemed real, is ripping us apart.
Are we in the west, with our spiritually impoverished ways, as privileged as we believe ourselves to be, or is this yet another mental construct that traps us in a belief system that says our consumptive ways are better than everything else?
Our beliefs are imposed on us from a place that is not positioned as a choice. But we don’t belong to the reality that has been positioned for us. We have the power to create and shape our own reality. This is the only way to inspire greater change. This was the way of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
Rampant inequality may define our world, but I hold firm to my belief about the illusion of privilege. Let’s not mistake narcissism, entitlement, consumption, guilt, distraction, and arrogance for privilege; or self-pity, victim consciousness, powerlessness, manipulation, despair, and desire for lack of privilege. These are all illnesses of the soul.
The prevailing mindset of the dominant culture is one of scarcity. How often do we hear the tired old mantras of, “I have no money”, I have no time”, “I have no blah, blah, blah” (fill in the blank). Paired with scarcity is a dissonant hoarding mentality. The same folks who blather on about lack of money or time have no qualms about dropping $100 (or more) on monthly cellphone/iPhone bills while whittling away precious hours compulsively texting their lives away. The use of this distracting technology is not about privilege, it’s about conformity, entitlement, and frivolous consumption.
As far as I’m concerned, privilege belongs in the archives of a cultural story gone awry.
Many people see white men with money and power—the likes of Donald Trump—as privileged. I see men who are trapped in the desperation of their insecurity and fear. They are enslaved.
Many people see the beggar on the street as underprivileged. I see a person making choices aligned with a false sense of self-worth. He is enslaved.
Let’s finally get real and tell it like it is.
We have no control over when we’re born, where we’re born or to whom we’re born. We have no control over the early years of our lives when we’re at the mercy of our wounded parents. And let’s stop lying to ourselves, there is not a human being on this planet who has not been damaged, to some degree, by their parents. And unless one has become healed, whole and self realized, there is not a parent on this planet who has not, to some degree, damaged their children. Antiquated beliefs and old patterns die hard.
In the innocence of our childhood, we don’t have the knowledge, free-will or support to extract ourselves from hand-me-down belief systems, abusive situations or unsafe experiences. As we grow older however, we take back the reins. Sadly, by this time, we’ve often forgotten who we are. And so we live the story of our lives in the shadow of our parents, teachers, authority figures, and culture—always searching outside of ourselves for what we’re desperate to express from within.
We’re conditioned to believe that our stories are who we are. We forget that we are the author, editor and publisher of our lives. We forget that we can rework the story—no matter what our circumstances—no matter who we are. We forget that we have choice.
We live in a world where we convince ourselves that our lives are defined by external forces. But that’s simply not true. Many people choose to be victims to their circumstances, trapped in a story that they refuse to revise. But unless we choose to live in our history, our past choices and actions do not define our present choices and actions. As Mark Twain said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”. Until we make choices aligned with our essence and our hearts, we remain trapped in the purgatory of our culturally conditioned ways.
Ultimately, our stories can shape us or they can enslave us.
The story of Viktor Frankl reminds me of the power of choice. Although he didn’t choose for his family to be brutally murdered as he was mercilessly confined to a Nazi concentration camp, he chose his outlook. He chose to rewrite the story of his life—not as a victim to his circumstances—but as a testament to who he was at his deepest core. His epic tome, “Man’s Search for Meaning” sold more than 10 million copies in 24 languages at the time of his death in 1997.
Viktor showed us the power of Resilience and Choice.
Rosa Parks grew up desperately poor, repeatedly bullied, abused, and the recipient of extreme sexism and racism. She chose not to be a victim to her ugly circumstances. In an act of historical civil disobedience, she refused to comply to the racism that ordered her to relinquish her bus seat in the colored section to a white passenger. Her act of defiance became an important symbol for the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Rosa showed us the power of standing for Truth and choosing her Self.
Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. Born to a simple family in Pakistan, a country founded on violence, oppression and misogyny, 15 year old Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban as she returned from school on a bus in October of 2012. She survived the trauma, which strengthened her resolve to advocate for, “millions of girls around the world who are being denied the right to go to school and realize their potential.”
At sixteen, Malala became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Malala showed us the power Perseverance and Voice.
There are endless examples of everyday people who have chosen the inner voice of their own Truth over the external voices of desperate lies.
My own life has been shaped by the scars of verbal abuse, physical violation, addiction, self-loathing, stupid choices, pain, suffering, death, and grief. I made the conscious choice to not allow this define me however. I know that I am so much more.
In taking ownership of my life, I live presently in Truth. My story then becomes irrelevant. In choosing my Self, I choose my soul. In choosing my soul, I no longer know privilege. Stripped naked of my conditioned beliefs, biases, judgements, fears, excuses and stories, I remember that we are all equal. The illusion is then dissolved.
I am grateful for my life. I recognize the fine line between the life I’ve chosen and a life on the streets. I also recognize the fine line between the life I’ve chosen and a life of power and acquisition. I know that I am no better than the homeless person and no lesser than the billionaire. My life is not defined by external circumstances or past choices. It is defined by what lives permanently in my heart as a testament to my soul.
I live a simple, frugal life of love, compassion and service. I don’t have much money or ‘stuff’, but I have a limitless capacity for caring.
Since being touched by Wolf and his animal companions, I’ve put the finishing touches on a holiday package for all of them. A brand new backpack filled with blankets, doggie coats (passed on from Jessie’s final years), unused camping gear, mitts, toque’s, and other warm clothing. There are bags of dog and cat treats and homemade vegan goodies made by my wonderful, caring, compassionate partner. A few spare dollars for pet food and hot meals tops off our gift. We’ll also be bringing a couple of dog pillows no longer needed by our brood.
I feel compassion for Wolf. Not because I see him as underprivileged and myself as privileged. Not because I feel pity or the need to rescue or save him. But because I see myself in him. I see myself in his animal companions.
When we lose privilege, we gain deep compassion.
I don’t know Wolf’s story, and quite frankly it doesn’t matter because I see beyond his story and into his soul. I know that he is so much more than who and what he has allowed himself to be. Just as I see myself reflected in him, my hope is that he will see himself reflected in me. Wolf is a beautiful metaphor, one who has shown me a deeper caring for all.
I don’t know what will come of my return to Penticton next week. What I do know is that I give a damn, and compassion is only worthwhile when it is put into action.
In a world that is begging for soul, may passion, truth, integrity and compassion be what fuels your offerings to the world.
PS. I have a dream of everyone who owns a cellphone/iPhone donating the equivalent of one month’s worth (or more) of service fees to a grassroots cause that feeds their heart—whether it’s the purchase of warm blankets and clothing for the homeless, food and supplies for an animal shelter, or canned goods for the local food bank. Mainstream charities dilute donations with distribution among themselves: overhead, salaries and administrative expenses, so grassroots is where it’s at. And if , like myself, you don’t own a cellphone/iPhone, offer what you can to show your caring in our ridiculously uncaring world. Our time on Earth may be coming to a premature end, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over. I for one, plan to leave in a blaze of glorious caring and compassion!
PPS. This infographic may make you want to throw your phone away altogether.