Privilege and entitlement are great things. So much of value has been created, cultivated and preserved through privilege and entitlement. Our culture, our heritage our environment owes much to privilege and entitlement. The problem, alas, with privilege and entitlement is that it has been the preserve of the privileged and the entitled. We must reclaim privilege from the privileged and be entitled to take it from the entitled!
The problem with tackling the privileged and the entitled head on is not because privilege and entitlement are bad things but precisely because they are good things. Self-esteem is important and a feeling of privilege and entitlement can greatly empower one. Privilege and entitlement are great not because they are earned like respect or renown but precisely because they are unearned, they are freely given. To feel privilege is crucially to be you. It is the wonder of you in your you-ness. As an open minded Descartes might say, ‘I am therefore I…’ and we live our life in that ellipses: ‘I have received an inheritance I could not possibly have earned and I am under no obligation to repay. So what shall I do now?’
That’s a transformative thing man.
To walk this earth, to breath this air, to feel bark under our palms and paddle our toes in quiet waters is an entitlement. One we have got because we are here now and we cannot earn it or pay it back. To see our life as a privilege, as an entitlement is an empowering thing. You very easily, statistically, might not have been. There were crazy odds on you ever being alive but here you are. The great loves, the great causes the heartbreaking acts, the profound insights were as a result of this privilege of this entitlement. Of people being in the right place at the right time.
The problem is not with privilege but with the privileged, not with entitlement but with the entitled. To be alive to the privilege and entitlement of existence requires a lightness of being. Not holding so tightly but trusting more, being content more. The privileged and the entitled are a sad parody of the mega life force that is the privilege of existing. This happens when privilege encounters fear and it ossifies into structures of the entitled that must protect their borders. If we might not always ‘have’ then we had better make sure we are not ‘have nots’. If I make life less of a privilege for those around me that my life becomes privileged by comparison and then I can relax knowing I am privileged in perpetuity, and tragically in so doing threaten life itself.
The comic ‘privileged’ must benefit at the expense of others. The true privilege of being is that we get to share it with one another. The entitled however share an inborn confidence at being set apart. It is wrongheaded to tackle this confidence directly. One cannot simply shout, ‘Stop being so at ease!’One needs to open the privileged and the entitled up to a wider worldview, a more trustworthy and expansive sense of the privilege and entitlement of being alive, of being a life. Happiness is not a zero sum game. Hating someone can be fun. Loving of them is so much more fun, however sad and scary and uneasy it can also be.
So how to undermine the privileged, the entitled without simply replacing them as those entitled to be superior to them? We must be challenging but playful, not belittling. Unsettling not earth shattering. Confidence and being at ease is not the issue, it is that their confidence is at the expense of others. Maybe there are acts we can do and discussions we can have to highlight the absurdity of nominal, contingent privilege. The world is a tragically unequal place where elites protect themselves from their brothers and sisters. We must show them the world is and can be more fun than that.
As a Scottish, white, middle class, straight male I don’t get flowers. This is, I hasten to add, not a kneejerk reaction that I don’t ‘get’ flowers (as in the point of them) I mean I literally don’t get flowers. Since being married, we as a couple, for our home, have been given flowers – in the domestic sphere. But I’ve never been given a bunch of flowers to say thank you or well done. We don’t get men flowers do we? And I’m talking bouquet here. None of this gardening hobby nonsense, I mean stick it in a jug for a week or two end game. The flowers that are decorative and life affirming and itinerant, only with us for a short time. Transient things that are simply to be beautiful.
When we challenge privilege we should say it with flowers.
The golf course which recently voted to keep its rule that women cannot be full members.
We should send them flowers.
A blessing that will challenge them and befuddle them and perhaps unsettle them.
We should keep sending them flowers to let them know we are thinking of them, that they aren’t forgotten, that life is full of beauty and meaning. Stop, smell the roses.
But say it with flowers.