What Can I Do With My Privilege?

Last night, after celebrating Thanksgiving with my family, I experienced a three-hour bout of insomnia that left me unsettled and introspective. I know how fortunate I am and how good life has been to me. I do not take that fact for granted, on any day of the year.

That’s what made the last few weeks exceedingly difficult to bear. The onslaught of horrific news headlines is depressing, and seemingly, unending. Paris and Beirut suffered terrible terrorist attacks, and I watched as my Facebook friends changed their profile pictures to an overlaid French flag to demonstrate their support and awareness of the event. I felt compelled to do the same. I wanted to be in the cool kids club and change my photo, too. But I didn’t.

Because, for me, it felt so…disingenuous. So contrived. So…utterly useless.

A former college instructor and I recently became friends on Facebook, and it came at the perfect time. I admire this woman for her intelligence and her values, and I am in even more awe of her. Why? Because at a time when all of social media wanted to demonstrate solidarity and unity with profile picture overlays and hashtags, she chose to be divisive.

She chose to push the envelope by asking people to consider whether their actions regarding a social media image were anything more than passive activism…known as slacktivism. A deluge of comments flooded her status, sparking a debate between what she implied versus what she said versus what she actually meant.

Shortly after, she posted again, this time with a simple question directed at anyone who encountered the message:

What will you do with your privilege?

I’ve been pondering that question for nearly two weeks, wondering how I can possibly make a difference in a world so vast and terrible. I struggle to comprehend how my life can be so…dare I say it, easy…compared to that of so many others. What have I done—other than be born to the right family, in the right country, at the right time—that the universe deemed me more worthy of mercy than so many others?

My old profesor shared a video of the refugee crisis as experienced through Samaritan’s Purse. The organization has staff in Greece and Croatia meeting refugees as they arrive by sea to help them find food, shelter, and comfort. I’d been avoiding these types of images and videos since the refugee crisis began because I didn’t want to face the reality of what is happening. The headlines are depressing, I reasoned. I don’t need more negativity in my life.

But then I watched this:

That’s when it occurred to me how obtuse I’ve been. Turning a blind eye to the injustice of the world does not make it disappear. Apathy is the enemy of action.

So I ask: What can I do with my privilege?

I ask with sincerity and earnest. I am not being trite. I want to know. What possible ripple can I make in the vast pool of terror and injustice enveloping our world today?

Last night, in the waning hours of a holiday heaped in giving thanks, I arrived at the answer. From a Facebook friend, no less. She wrote:

From Heidi

Light. Grace. Kindness. Hope. That is the answer to the evil of ISIS and all other trials of this life. Be an answer to someone’s prayer. Forum columnist Tammy Swift’s kindness toward a stranger and her daughter inspired me to give $20 to a man and woman at an interstate ramp. The man held a sign that said, “Everyone needs a little help sometimes.” And we do. We all need a lot of help many different times throughout our lives.

Right now, Syrian refugees need help. They don’t need governors asking to halt their entry into the country because we’re afraid of them. Fear is not the answer. Charity is. Mercy is. Generosity is. Donate a baby carrier so a weary Syrian mother can carry a child with slightly less burden. I will.

If your voice is all you have, then use it to speak words of acceptance and love, not criticism and derision. If you have more than a voice, use whatever you have to make a difference—no matter how small it may seen. Even the tiniest spark can ignite a wildfire. Make it a fire burning with hope and grace.

Do not just read these poetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; live them:

MLK quote

Featured Image courtesy ABC News.

4 Responses

  1. Jolene

    You’ve captured exactly how I feel, especially as Christmas approaches. Thanks for this great article and extra motivation to do something positive.

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