I would like to believe that I am a self made man. Don’t get me wrong, I know very well that I have not rewritten history, I am not a influencer or a trend setter in any way. I work for a living, and absolutely will need to do so in order to build a stable environment for my family. But I would like to think that I have come a long way from growing up in Tamil Nadu to some guy in Houston, Texas. I want to be clear here. I am not implying that living in the USA is making me a better person than somebody who lives in India. I am talking about measure of progress in the journey of life. I do genuinely think that the effort I have put in to make myself better is the primary reason that I am what I am today.
I went to a school near home. I absolutely had no idea of what the world beyond school looked like. I was a studious kid and all, I played a few sports and hung out with other 15 year olds doing stuff that only 15 year olds can. Yet, when it mattered, I was able to pull away from the company, focus and do well enough in the exams to earn a shot at an engineering college. College was nothing like life portrayed in movies that I grew up watching. There were a ton of kids who had better grades, a lot of them played sports at a different level and honestly put me to shame with their sense of fashion and knowledge of the world. Their interests in books, music and cuisines were varied and I was amazed at the confidence with which they wooed the ladies. At first I struggled to adapt, but soon I was able to pick up the pieces and used the time to transform myself as a person. My grades improved, I got better at sports, I developed a taste for music, books, and I found love. A final year flourish ensured that I had a job before I left college, had a university rank and an opportunity to go further ahead. You might be thinking, wait none of this is special. What is he touting about. Fair point. But what you need to understand is I had made the transition from doubting myself to knowing that I belonged. That feeling made all the difference at work. I was able to quickly master new things. I set myself to pursue various interests and put in the time to make myself better at many tings.
So when some folks tell me that I was lucky enough to have these abilities I don’t take that statement very well. I think that I am being disrespected as my efforts were not being acknowledged. I tell them we are all created the same and the only thing that differentiates one from another is the effort. They do not seem to understand that at all. I am upset and I decide to go out for a walk. The rhythmic cadence helps me calm down. I get an overwhelming urge to write about the experience. As I relive my personal moments of success I notice that it is not always me on the podium. I am never alone. I am always surrounded by my friends, by family or well wishers. In the pictures, some are even more happier than I am at my success.
I put my thoughts on hold as I get ready to combat the daily routine of life. My kids school wants us to donate non-perishable foods to help homeless people. I had a hard time explaining what being homeless meant to my daughter. She was just not getting it. Where are their parents? What happened to their home? As I struggled to answer her questions, I couldn’t help think about the turns their lives must have taken. While there is a general sense of pity, that feeling disappears as you move on. It is said that you can have empathy only when you have experienced similar situations yourself. A person like me has not even entertained a thought about the same. So will I be in a position to really understand their plight?
I think, I have calmed down enough to realize two things. I always have had a stable support system and that definitely has enabled me to push myself a little more. I will be unable to understand completely the experiences of others, I can empathize but that does not mean that I understand their pain. Malcolm Gladwell in his book outliers looks to describe what makes special people special. It starts of being fun but then towards the end you see how generic factors such as birth month, neighborhood you grow in, and “being at the right place and the right time” can help shape a person’s career. He does not belittle their personal skills and drive, but just points out that these people had access to opportunities that others did not. The outliers just maximized their opportunities. I couldn’t help but draw parallels here. I guess everyone really is a product of their own environment.
Once you admit that base premise it is astounding to see how factors such as race, gender, religion, skin color can affect a person’s life. I mean going out for a run should not be special right, I don’t for a moment think of any bad outcomes before I go out. But now I can see that many folks cannot take that freedom for granted. I am not thinking about getting shot, not afraid of being harassed sexually and in fact I don’t even ask my wife if she had made any plans before I go out to run. You would have thought your country would welcome you with open arms considering your birth right and all, but to hear that my citizenship is assured in my country because of my religion is not essentially an argument that I am ready to bite.
I guess my social standing, educational qualifications and gender helps me navigate these constraints but can every single person in this planet be assured of the same sense of security i have. Chance or fate has landed me on a side where I did not have to be concerned with many things. Maybe that is what allowed me to pursue my own interests, and to build on my skills. Next time when someone tells me that I had lucky breaks I will still tell them that they were wrong. I was not lucky I was privileged.
One response to “Understanding Privilege”
Nice mapla… We wer just little fortunate to have parents who gave us education, friends , all that. Doesn’t mean we got free lunch