“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” –Isaiah 40: 1
It should not be difficult for any person to feel the effects of our broken and slanted system that values some people over others. Because all of us have had experiences of feeling under valued. Sometimes I wonder if part of the problem that produces the familiar refrain:
We have a system that works, and there’s no need to challenge it.
…sometimes I think this comes from just not knowing that things really could be better. A lot better. I think it’s possible that when we talk about some people being privileged and others not being, part of where we lose one another is that NOTHING is perfect…for anybody. So when your privilege is pointed out to you, and you know your life to be unsatisfying or unfulfillng in some way, then we’re quick to play into our Victimhood. Because Victimhood is the opposite side of the Privilege coin. If some people are going to be privileged, then others are clearly victims…and if we don’t feel we’re on the privileged side…then we need to find a way of proving our victimhood. So our skewed view of how we are doing in the world, versus how we could be doing, and being unaware of how others are doing leads to a lot of denial of privilege, and a lot of false victim claims.
How’s this sounding so far?
Case in point: I went to the doctor yesterday. I got a physical, a consult on my health, got my blood tested for various things, and a flu shot. ALL FOR FREE! What an amazing privilege it is to have, not just health insurance, but GOOD health insurance. Apparently I am mainly in good shape (he says cautiously, having not received the results of the cholesterol and various other tests). This is the very definition of privilege; partaking in a system that allows me to get professional help caring for myself for no cost! 42 million people in our country don’t have that privilege (probably more than that…there are 42 million uninsured people, but even more have inadequate insurance that might not get them the same level of care as myself, or at least serves as a disincentive for seeking such care). I am a privileged person.
But there is a shadow side to privilege. Because I have a Master’s Degree, and a professional job that pays well, including benefits like health insurance…I have a lifestyle that makes it very difficult for me to be healthy. I spend a lot of time in isolation. I have many important meetings to go to at odd times of day, so it makes it difficult (read: near impossible) to eat right or exercise regularly. I’m going to go back to the isolation part…I have wonderful colleagues, but few of them are my age and the ones who are work in other places. So a lot of my professional life…which takes up at least 2/3 of my life every week…is spent alone. This makes motivation for exercise, easting right, drinking less, or sleeping regularly difficult to figure out. I don’t really have models or structures that give me access to the resources necessary to be more healthy: environments that promote good mental health, time and money for exercise; flexibility to cook for myself; networks of peers who can hold me accountable, model good behavior, encourage healthy practice, etc.
Privilege comes at a cost. And life for underprivileged people costs more across the board. Everyone is caught up in a struggle…that’s just what it means to be alive. But I happen to be aware of a lot of my privileges, and that awareness allows me to name the things that are not OK: I should not have to choose between doing my high paying job well or caring for myself properly. And yet, that’s where a lot of us in positions of privilege find ourselves. And there are things in place that could make the whole thing easier on me so it’s less of a trade off…but I have yet to develop those networks and resources. So I went to the doctor–for free–and found out–for free–that the things that are currently most likely to be a problem for me in the long run are all lifestyle issues that are very difficult for me to change.
I know I should sleep better, knowing that I went to the doctor and was given a clean bill of health…but my mind is unsettled by the knowledge that I may not be able to fix the things that are most likely to kill me…meanwhile, many people who may need immediate medical attention much more than I do can’t afford a doctor’s visit in the first place.
When searching for Peace…I find it necessary to name my limitations….and I seek God to reach out and comfort me through my imperfections. May it be so for our country as well.