Privilege is a word that’s kicked around quite often these days. If you look at various sources, you’ll see definitions that include words like benefit, advantage, favor, or special right that a person or group may have. Much of the time the privilege someone enjoys has little to do with their choices.
When you think about it, privilege is about comparisons. The thing that might be a benefit or advantage for me when compared to you, could be a disadvantage when compared to someone else.
Wealth is often considered privilege because of the advantages it affords. If wealth is privilege, then no matter how many people you’re better off than, you’re always less privileged compared to someone who has more.
I certainly don’t have the same access and opportunities as Elon Musk, LeBron James, Oprah Winfrey, or ex-Presidents because I don’t have their wealth. However, I also know I have more privilege than the vast majority of the world because I live in America and our standard of living is so good.
We all have some privilege
When it comes to discussions around privilege, it surprises people when I remind them they’re among the most privileged to ever walk the face of the Earth.
Why do I write that? Because no one before us has ever lived in a safer, more prosperous time than today. That’s not my opinion, that’s according to statistical records as cited by Harvard professor and cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker in his 2017 TED Talk, Is the world getting better or worse? A look at the numbers.
Of course, progress is not a given and the pandemic (a hundred-year anomaly) may mean a step back on some of Pinker’s stats. Despite that, with all of the advances in technology, medicine, safety, etc., I’ve yet to find anyone who would go back 25 years, 50 years, or more, if given the chance. Things are far from perfect, but we have it much better than our ancestors. We enjoy privilege.
Privilege isn’t going away
Jesus told his followers, “The poor you will always have with you.” He didn’t say that to discourage helping those who are less fortunate. His observation was simply stating a fact.
In today’s language we could say we will always have privileged and disadvantaged people. While we should work to reduce inequality gaps of any kind, let’s not fool ourselves, we won’t get rid of all of the gaps. No matter how hard we try, we won’t usher in utopia.
Knowing that each of us has a position of privilege as compared to our ancestors, we need to exercise humility and extend grace. After all, being born at this point in time was none of our doing and much of the good fortune we enjoy are the results of lucky breaks.
As we look back on our ancestors and see many are being canceled because of things they said, did, or believed, we need to be humble – but for the grace of God there go I – and extend grace.
It’s folly to think if we’d lived sometime in the past that we would have made different decisions than those people. You can only think that way from the privileged point of view thanks to decades, centuries, and millennia of societal evolution. Without that progress it’s not likely you’d have the views that you hold today.
Humility and Grace
It’s easy to think, “If I were alive then I would have [fill in the blank].” But the reality is, you don’t know what you would have felt, thought, or done. To insist otherwise isn’t grounded in reality.
An attitude like that reminds me of a certain religious leader Jesus mentioned. The pious man stood before the altar, looked at a poor man, then gave thanks that he wasn’t like that beggar.
Many people today, from a privileged point of view, look down on those who came before them, thanking God that they are not like those people.
How does that square with the rich man and poor beggar? The beggar, not the rich man, was considered more righteous.
Each of us has been the rich man and poor man at different times in our lives. Recognizing that, we could all use a dose of humility when it comes to whatever privilege we may have.
In humility we need to extend grace, not condemnation, to others lest we find ourselves in the judgmental position of the pious man at the altar. Never forget, casting judgment isn’t a matter of privilege, it’s an attitude of the heart that can be directed at anyone.
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, Brian helps clients apply influence in everyday situations to boost results.
As one of only a dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers (CMCT) in the world, Brian was personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.
Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His latest book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable designed to teach you how to apply influence concepts at home and the office.
Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 500,000 people around the world!