Privilege can be a slippery slope into entitlement and conceit when you allow yourself to believe you are somehow better or more worthy than someone else. Privilege can also be very deceptive as it can sneak up on you in a very unassuming way before you even realize what’s happening. There is a fine line between something you’ve earned and are therefore granted and feeling or believing you’re entitled to it. That line exists where you perceive yourself better because of your status, position, social standing, or any array of characteristics.
In my experience, I see 3 general areas where privilege shows up. First is personal privilege. This is where you assert some type of advantage due to a factors specific to you. For example, you may believe yourself entitled to a larger office or invited to certain events simply because you are a manager or executive. You may see yourself as more entitled due to membership in a club or being labeled as a VIP.
The second category of privilege is when it is conferred upon you by another because of a certain class or category you are deemed to belong to. This can show up in all kinds of settings. While you may not have initially claimed this for yourself, you accept it and feel even justified by it because it has been granted to you by someone else. After all, if others see you this way, then it must be true.
Last is social privilege. This is where you are deemed to be more entitled because of your social status or group(s) you are associated with. In this case, it can be based on your financial standing, nationality, political affiliation, or even race.
In each case, it’s very easy to find yourself asserting certain rights and privileges because of your membership or affiliation in one or more groups. The trap is not so much related to enjoying certain benefits of being in a group (particularly where you’ve personally earned it), but in how you approach it. When your attitude becomes one of entitlement versus humility and gratitude, you have tripped and fallen into the trap.
Some traps are difficult to identify. For example, I believe there are situations where ‘white privilege’ exists in our society. As a Caucasian, I admit that I have benefited in ways I probably am unaware of because I am white and not because I’ve earned it in some way. My many friends of color have shared with me how it has affected them. This doesn’t mean that I must be somehow apologetic for something that is inherently who I am, only that I should be aware and work to address inequities when I see them. It is when someone who is Caucasian takes advantage of that at the expense of others that the trap is sprung.
Humility is the greatest tool to keep from falling into the privilege trap. When you recognize you are granted certain benefits because of what you have earned or even because of your affiliation in a particular group, it is gratitude and thanks that guide you away from the edge of the precipice.
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