1.7. How Privilege Makes Us Lose Perspective

Even if all we have to deal with is minor discomforts, inconveniences, or sacrifices…our tendency is still to treat it as if it’s a major imposition.

It’s easy to just get sucked into our everyday lives.

I mean, they’re right there, demanding our attention at all times.

And it’s not as if we aren’t ever doing anything important in our daily lives.

But it’s easy to lose perspective.

In the end, we’re just one of seven and a half billion people, who woke up this morning and are going about our lives.

One out of seven and a half billion isn’t a very impressive amount. We don’t even know close to 1 percent of what’s going on in this world.

We have to rely on what other people tell us. And unfortunately, we can’t always trust what they say, because they don’t always tell the truth.

But we can still get a decent sense of where we stand in the big scheme of things.

We know that somewhere between 1 and 2 billion people have to survive on no more than a dollar or two per day.

We know that roughly half the world’s population lives in countries that don’t protect basic rights or freedoms.

We know that billions of people are battered every day by atrocities that would squash most of us like a bug if we were in their shoes, even though we don’t like to think about it.

The fact is, the more you’re like me—white, male, middle-aged, able-bodied, mentally healthy, American, English-speaking, straight, cisgendered, highly educated, socioeconomically stable and comfortable—the better you’re likely to have it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t know what real struggle is. I’ve still had to work hard. I’ve still had to deal with some really difficult stuff in my life, like debilitating anxiety, addictions, and depression.

What it means is there’s a distortion in how I make sense of what’s going on in my life that I have to mentally counteract, that’ll lead me to erroneous conclusions if I’m not careful.

There’s a big, big difference between minor inconveniences or small sacrifices, and genuine burdens.

And even if you have to deal with a genuine burden, there’s a big, big difference between a mere burden and genuine hardship.

But we don’t often make that distinction. Even if all we have to deal with is minor discomforts, minor inconveniences, or minor sacrifices, our tendency is still to treat it as if it’s a major imposition, simply because it’s the worst thing we have going on in our lives.

I’m not saying we should be happy about those things, or not try to get rid of them, if we have the means. Just understand what they really are.

Even if there are some ways in which you aren’t privileged, acknowledge the ways that you are. And recognize how that can and will distort how you make sense of your life at times.

Not only does that prevent you from being rightly seen as an out-of-touch jerk by those less fortunate than you, it makes you happier too. Because you’ll see that many of your struggles that seem like hardships are actually small inconveniences in the big scheme of things.


This is the 19th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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