It’s a privilege to listen to tough ideas, but we all have a right to be heard.
“Recess is a privilege,” I remember my teacher saying once. “Not a right!”
That reminder was usually more than enough to get me to sit down and remain silent. I loved recess, and I’d be a fool to lose it.
As something that could rightfully be taken away from me, recess was most certainly a privilege.
Until recently, I hadn’t thought much about privilege. I hadn’t defined it, and I hadn’t dealt with it, and I hadn’t noticed it. Little did I know, that is what it’s like to feel blissfully privileged.
One way to understand privilege is through a little game.
Invite nine of your friends over to your house. Before they arrive, place a waste basket in the corner of your living room. Wad up ten pieces of paper, and give one to each of your friends as they arrive. Hold onto the last piece.
The party will pick up, your friends will start teasing and laughing with each other, and everyone will be enjoying your chips and dip. This is the perfect time to get their attention! Give your guests these instructions: freeze exactly where you are, take out the wad of paper, and attempt to throw it into the waste basket in the corner of the living room.
The waste basket–you tell them–is their vehicle to nirvana. If they make it, they attain nirvana and ultimate bliss. Miss, and you’re stuck where you are.
Those who are closest to the basket will have a better shot, while those who are further away–especially your friend Jimmy who’s around the corner scavenging your refrigerator for food–may not have as great a chance to make it into the basket.
In other words, some of your friends are more privileged than others. Often, they’re more privileged through no fault or reason of their own. They simply happened to be standing where they were at.
Privileges and rights are similar to each other.
A privilege is something a particular individual can do that another can’t. In its simplest form, a right is something everyone is entitled to. For example, most would agree that everyone has a right to go swimming, but not everyone has the privilege of doing so at a posh country club.
There’s controversy, of course, about what counts as a right. Think welfare, voting, and selling sex. Often, privileges and rights sit atop one another, like a cherry on whipped cream.
Think about your friend Jimmy who had to take his attempt from your kitchen. He had the right to try his shot, even though he wasn’t in the most privileged position.
Why does any of this matter?
The heart of privilege can be applied to almost any issue that you can imagine.
If you’re like me, you’ve got some friends who enjoy sharing their views on Facebook. Facebook is a privilege, while the protection of free speech is widely accepted as a right. Fortunately for our sanity, Facebook has given us the privilege of “unfollowing” people who annoy us.
Let’s apply this to a more targeted issue: the petitions to ban Donald Trump from certain cities and countries.
An online petition to ban the vocal American presidential candidate from entering the United Kingdom surpassed 150,000 signatures. There were enough signatures to warrant a decision by government officials. They rejected the petition, suggesting that robust political discussion was the best way to handle the U.S. candidate.
The U.K. and U.S. both attempt to be protectors of free speech. Donald Trump may say unsavory statements, but governments rooted deeply into the right of free speech aren’t in a strong position to reject the American politician.
But let’s imagine you were to do business with Mr. Trump. If you don’t agree with his views, then you have the privilege and right of turning him away from your office.
The lines are fuzzy for a reason.
Some school districts have mandatory time for recess.
Physical activity was mandated because enough people deemed it as a right of the child to be healthy. My private school surely recognized the importance of physical activity, but recess was only a privilege. This is an example of how the line between privilege and right can be so fuzzy.
It’s fuzzy because there’s almost always a need for discussion. Democracy needs discussion to survive.
Unlike Facebook, we can’t always unfollow ideas we don’t like.
In fact, it’s a privilege to hear those tough ideas.
It’s a privilege to listen, and a right to be heard.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Yixler