April 18, 2019

Silver Spoons

Real estate agents often are tarred and feathered with an image that is money-hungry and boastful. It’s an image we reject at First National Byron and that position is a blessing. We are blessed in our business for the support we have from the people in our community who choose our agents for their professional property services. This choice is a privilege that enables our business to be involved in a number of initiatives that give back and help us find meaning and belonging in our towns. It helps us to attract the type of people who find purpose and meaning in giving back, too.

Privilege is a concept that harks back to a time when the monarchy, church and parliament as institutions had a much deeper impact upon all our lives. ‘Privilege’ was a certain entitlement conferred upon a group (by the monarch, church or parliament) that gave them either special permission to do things other people were not allowed to do; or conversely, sometimes it meant that the group did not need to do things that other people were forced to do.

Examples of privilege include the entitlement for certain landowners in Britain to sit in The House of Lords and make law. The concept of privilegium in Catholic Canon Law was the idea that certain people were above the operation of the law for certain reasons for a certain period of time. The destruction of these types of privileges was one of the critical objectives of the French Revolution. As a bohemian type of town, the notion of a special advantage being granted to one person or a small group based on their birthright is unpalatable, to say the least.

A privilege is the sort of thing that ought to be earned and a privileged life is something most people strive for. But then, what is there to be done with privilege. We are good at dealing with other concepts in the social order. The concept of ‘Karma’ corrects unfairness and ties consequences to actions in an egalitarian way. ‘The Golden Rule’ drives us to create communities that we want to be a part of – treating people how we would like to be treated.

Perhaps because of its unfair, corrupt, and un-bohemian history the notion of privilege is rarely discussed: How SHOULD we understand advantage?

A poem that has always stuck to me as a messy attempt at understanding the nature of privilege is ‘The White Man’s Burden’ by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling, famous for his novel ‘The Jungle Book’ was viewing the emerging empires of the 19th century with VERY European glasses. The title and the themes of the poem are out of sync with 21st century views on first nation people; the language promotes an appetite and an advocacy for invasion; the tone of the whole piece is vile – given what we now know about the scale and impact of colonialism. Kipling’s end-game was convincing comfortable young men from the leisure class to board boats and leave their luxury surroundings for a life in the colonies. It was no easy argument.

The poem is a unique insight into the deep (deeply misguided) responsibility that the settlers and invaders felt in relation to their perceived privilege.

Does privilege carry responsibility? The implication that Britain’s empirical oppression was somehow not for Britain’s benefit but for the benefit of the people they were invading as suggested by Kipling remains an open wound around the globe. It does show us the danger that exists in joining the ‘privilege’ of giving; and a ‘duty’ to give.

Giving is a privilege, not a responsibility, as Kipling constructed it. An advantage in any sense in simply an enhanced capacity. So for those privileged with wealth and title, there is no increased responsibility to give – simply an increased capacity. To give then is in itself a privilege.

In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus of Nazareth is invited to the home of a wealthy family for a lavish feast celebrating the marriage of their son. The family is the subject of criticism due to the opulence in which they live – the privilege of their wealth and political influence. The parable speaks to their advantage and is, in my view the final word on what should be done with privilege:

“As much is given, much is required.”