Understanding privilege

I always thought I understood privilege. My parents used to tell me throughout all my life, how privileged we were. They kept insisting on this topic, they kept asking: “Do you understand what we are trying to tell you?” I listened to them and nodded my head and thought, I had understood.

But actually, I did not.

It took me 22 years and the NOW-Journey to finally get a clue of what privilege really means and I on some days believe, that I still have no idea.

Privilege to me means all the things in life you got, for which you never really did something to get them. They just are. We just have them, or we don’t.

We are born into this world, or that one – maybe a similar one, maybe a completely different one. Thing is, we can’t change where we come from. We can’t chose our neighborhood, our family, the milieu we are born into, the problems our society is facing, the education we are getting, the health-system we are receiving. It’s given. It’s a privilege. Either you have it, or you don’t.

We can work as hard as we want, sweat as many tears as we are able to, invest in our lives as much as we wish – some things in life are just given. And it would be a lie to deny this fact.

I keep hearing people say “you are what you do”, which in general may be true. But the rules for this battle called life, the initial positions are just completely different for each one of us. We are facing different stories. Each one of us has it’s own. I’m tired of people saying, that we are all the same, because we are not.

I wish it would be like this, but it would be like closing his eyes in front of the reality.

Each one of us is different, we come from different backgrounds, we have lived different pasts, we are living different presents and we’re most probably going to live different futures.

When I got into primary school, I discovered the magical world of books. Our teacher took us to the library once a week and we could take all the books we wanted, as long as we would bring them back the week after. I used to take a lot of them, until I realized, that actually my home was full of books already. I never payed any attention to all the books we used to have in our living room. They were just there. I never actually thought about reading them. I never recognized the fact of having books at home as an opportunity. An opportunity to get knowledge and education for free. I never recognized this as a privilege, it was just given to me.

A few days ago a friend asked me, if there has been one particular moment in my life, about which I would say “That’s the one. That moment changed everything.” Well yes. This summer during the NOW-Journey there was one particular moment when we were talking with – I wouldn’t want to call them “the participants”, nor “the others”, but “my friends” – about privileges. I guess it wasn’t just a workshop, for all of us, it was much more. More intense, more feelings-related. A lot of us cried, left the room, turned their heads away. For me it was a difficult moment to handle, I actually didn’t think I would be able to.

BUT, no matter how hard it may have been – or maybe that’s even the reason why – that one moment changed in some sense a lot of my beliefs and dreams and most of all, it changed the way I thought about my future and it provided me with the motivation to get up and do something. For the first time in my life I felt not paralyzed confronted with the unfair reality of life, but full of energy and zest of action.

I’m writing this text on my mac book, sitting in a library, full of old books, if you don’t look long enough, you might confuse it with the library of Hogwarts. I didn’t like to come here before this summer, but since the NOW-Journey I come every single day and study until late night, because I finally understood the meaning of privilege.

Life gave me such a huge amount of it, and instead of thinking about how unfair this is, I will use it wisely, in order to make the importance of privilege in this world get smaller and smaller. So, back to studying.



Written by Jeannine, NOW Journey participant from Switzerland