When you apply the concept duality to privilege, it creates a rather interesting perspective. Consider example A:
John is the child of a wealthy family. His grandfather did very well, and John’s parents never had to work. John grows up knowing that he won’t have to work either. John’s parents lead a lavish lifestyle and give John is given everything that he asks for.
As a result of his unique circumstances, John has a unique perspective on life. In that environment, I could see it being extremely challenging to develop qualities like a strong work ethic, perseverance, or the ability to deal with scarcity. I could also see it being difficult to develop healthy relationships with others for a variety of reasons. This doesn’t sound like a life of privilege to me. Consider example B:
Jane is the daughter of two working class immigrants, and is raised in a rough neighborhood. Jane grows up admiring the work ethic of her parents, knowing how their sacrifices let her grow up in a better place than where they were from. Jane doesn’t have much growing up, but she appreciates what she has and learns how to work towards the things she wants.
In that environment, Jane was given several obstacles and challenges which John would be unlikely to face. I’d like to think there are two ways to look at this. You could say that John is privileged to not have to work for anything. Or you could also say that Jane is privileged to have learned a great work ethic when she was young. Perhaps there’s a key difference between these two though, in that Jane earned her work ethic while John didn’t earn his family’s wealth. While that may be true, neither Jane nor John earned their circumstances – in this case, their family. Had Jane been born to John’s family, would she have turned out any differently? Had John been born into Jane’s circumstances, would he have developed Jane’s work ethic? Who’s life would you rather be born into? If you’re like me and picked Jane’s life because it would probably lead to a more balanced, fulfilling, successful, and healthy life, wouldn’t that be the more privileged life?
When you think about our greats, from Muhammad Ali to Connor McGregor, from J Lo to Jay Z, from Abe Lincoln to Narendra Modi, from Indra Nooyi to Oprah Winfrey, from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs, and from Charles Dickens to JK Rowling, you start to see a pattern of overcoming a more challenging set of circumstances from a young age. You know who I don’t see? I don’t see the children of billionaires. How often do we see the children of wealthy families behaving as inspiring leaders that move the world forward in a positive direction?
I think that inheritance doesn’t exist in a meritocracy but that aside, I genuinely don’t have any issues with someone inheriting a fortune and then settling down and living a comfortable life with their family. I just know that’s not the best environment for producing good human-beings. It looks easy, and nice, and better, but it lacks the struggle, and it’s the struggle which defines us.
The most challenging moments of my life directly preceded my most significant moments of personal growth. If this pattern stays true for others, is adversity not to be embraced as the fuel of progress? If so, perhaps privilege represents someone who’s arrived at the destination without having made the journey. If so, perhaps there’s an argument to be made for an empathetic approach to this whole ‘privilege’ thing. If we’re lucky, it might be contagious.