Reposted from Deb Ozarko’s website
“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’. 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 is a convenient excuse to play small—a victim to one’s circumstances, or to dominate—under the guise of self-importance.
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 him one of the sleeping bags used to cover the back hatch space for our 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 up.
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 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.
Rampant inequality may define our world, but I hold firm to my belief about privilege. Let’s not mistake narcissism, entitlement, consumption, distraction, and arrogance for privilege; or self-pity, victim consciousness, manipulation, despair, and desire for a 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 a lack of money or time have no qualms about dropping $100 (or more) on monthly cellphone/iPhone bills while whittling away precious hours compulsively checking their phones as they text their lives away. I don’t see the use of this technology as a necessity or a privilege; I see it is a perfect example of narcissistic, entitled, distraction 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 these men as 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 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 that 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 confined to a Nazi concentration camp, he chose his outlook. He chose to rewrite the story of his life—not as a victim of 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 hatred 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 served to only strengthen 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, 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 see 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 an endless 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 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 that 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 you don’t own a cellphone/iPhone like me, 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 until it’s over. I for one, plan to leave in a blaze of glorious caring!