What is it that we are taught we can’t have, and what is it that we are encouraged to pursue instead? Here are the pairs I have come up with so far. Can you think of any others? If so, I invite you to post them as comments.
We live in a society which provides a huge amount of convenience to those who can afford it. So much is available at the push of a button which makes life so much more convenient. Yet none of these things provide much joy. It is becoming more and more apparent that this level of convenience is numbing, and that many societies and groups, both outside the USA, and within some groups in the USA (not the dominant group) have significantly less convenience in their life, yet display in many instances a lot more joy despite the oppressive conditions.
Both individuals and groups try to establish for themselves a sense of security, both physical and economic, unsuccessfully. Yet societies exist in the world, or neighborhoods, where the sense of community has not died, and where people are not obsessed by security. Doors are unlocked, and people know that whatever resources exist in the community will be shared. Real security lies within a community, not in amassing fortresses and savings.
Individuals within this society (and others) are striving for success, and sacrifice years of their lives working hard in order to succeed. But their deep need for a sense of purpose in life is not at all addressed, no matter how “successful” they become. At the same time more and more people discover the possibility of experiencing a life away from the tension of success, which is at the same time filled with a sense of purpose.
Technology has made every aspect of our lives more efficient and productive, and that is offered to us as a substitute for exercising our creativity and being able to contribute our gifts in full to others and to life. We speed up to get things done, and we have more and more gadgets and “time-saving” devices, and yet fewer and fewer of us have a sense of meaning on a daily basis, or experience that we make a difference in the world.
The drive to accumulate money is fueled by the assumption that having a lot of money means being free to do what we please. And yet the true sense of freedom eludes most of us. No amount of money can buy internal peace, the ability to respond to situations freshly, and the transformation of debilitating internal messages and external pressures into clarity about what we want and how we want to move towards it.
Finally, having given up on the hope that we will have the power to have our life be the way we want it and have our real needs met, we seek instead to have control over resources and other human beings. Time and again it becomes evident that people’s sense of power does not increase with the amount of control they are able to exercise over others. In fact, there is reason to believe that at least some of the time people’s sense of power actually decreases with more access to resources and is replaced by fear and isolation, which drive people to exercise even more control.
Learning about Privilege
The real question for me remains how to support learning about access to resources and privilege without guilt or shame. I do not pretend to know the answer. I only have some preliminary thoughts about this immense task. It’s clear to me that love is essential, so the landing into reality is cushioned, not harsh. I also imagine that rekindling the hope in having our real needs matter makes it more likely that we can open up to experiencing the longings we have. My goal, for myself and for others, is not to “give up” privilege. My hope is that each of us can wake up to the deepest goals and dreams that we have for ourselves and everyone else. When we can accept and celebrate both our needs and our resources, we can learn to use resources with conscious choice. That is my vision of true responsible freedom. I look forward to the many conversations that will support all of us in going in that direction.