In his book, The Tyranny of Virtue, Robert Boyers discusses privilege, the privilege he enjoys, then questions the implications of privilege in a wonderfully thought-provoking way. He is the impetus for this blog.
Universality of privilege
One example Boyers uses is white male privilege, a privilege I enjoy as well. But Boyers words helped me realize that we all are privileged in some regard. Women possess the privilege and joy of bringing a new life into the world, something men can’t enjoy.
Some of us are privileged to possess exceptional musical or athletic talent. Some are gifted in math and science while others are exceptional communicators, sculptors or painters.
My point is that we are all privileged in some way. The real question lies in how we use that privilege.
Erroneous view of privilege
Too often privilege carries a negative connotation. I hear people who don’t possess the skills and abilities of a contemporary lamenting the ‘fact’ that the person has an advantage which results in inequity, an uneven playing field. What the person is overlooking is that the person with whom they are comparing themselves is at a disadvantage in other areas of privilege.
The problem with this view of privilege is that it’s limiting. Indeed, it’s self-limiting. The more frequently we see ourselves as being at a disadvantage, the less likely we are to pursue our dreams.
When we see ourselves at a disadvantage several things happen:
- We don’t pursue our dreams because we believe that we can’t compete.
- We ignore that fact that desire trumps talent and privilege…that if we want something badly enough that we’ll find a way to make it happen.
- We give power to those with privilege that they don’t possess. They can’t control what you do or how you do it unless you allow it.
- We ignore the power of our privileges, in essence granting more power to others’ privileges than our own.
- We limit our potential without anyone else having to lift a finger.
I don’t know about you, but that’s not the life I want. Fortunately my parents instilled in my brothers and me the belief that we could accomplish anything we wanted if we were willing to do the work.
Not everyone is that fortunate which is one of the reasons I’m writing this post. My goal is to make each and every one of you aware of these natural tendencies so that you can avoid the self-limiting beliefs they engender…so that you and your kids can enjoy what you want from life.
But our view of privilege is only one piece of the puzzle. We must also ask ourselves what we’re doing with the privilege we possess.
Use of privilege
Whatever advantage we have as a result of the privilege(s) we possess will be measured by how effectively we use our privilege for the benefit of others.
You know this from personal experience, when a person is using a privilege they possess to advance their own interests, you’re ill-inclined to assist them. But when they’re using their privilege for the welfare of others, you’re very willing to pitch in and help.
If I were to use the advantages that being a white male afford me to limit the potential of those who are not white, or not male, the vast majority of you would roil against me…as you should. But if I use the privileges being a white male afford me to help promote opportunity for those who don’t possess the advantages I enjoy, then it’s highly likely that you’d support my efforts.
As you can see, it’s not a question of whether or not you possess a given privilege, but how you use the privileges you possess.
Every time that you find yourself feeling that someone has an advantage, a privilege that you don’t possess, remind yourself that this is a self-limiting belief. Then set your mind to the task of identifying what you need to do to achieve what you desire.
Look for ways to use your privilege(s) to give a leg up to those who don’t. In doing so, you’ll live joyfully knowing that you’re making the world a brighter, happier place in which to live.
For our kids
When you see your kids using privilege to limit their potential, help them understand that they also enjoy privilege; it’s simply different than the privilege others enjoy. Help them see that it’s desire, not privilege, that determines their success. Learning this simple lesson will help them avoid the frustration and disappointment of self-limiting beliefs. Instead of disappointment and frustration, they’ll enjoy achieving what they want in life. That’s a priceless gift.
Then ask them “How are you going to use the privileges you possess to aide others?”
I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your wisdom in a comment.
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