Being aware of privilege

Sweden is a country where on average people live a very good life. However, here I would like to discuss the extremes rather than the average. On the one hand are the ones who have it extremely good – people who live a healthy life with a lot of exercise and a well balanced diet, who have a well paid job, an apartment or a house in what is considered a good neighborhood, who travel a lot, whose children go to the best kindergartens and schools. On the other hand we have people who, for various reasons which I will not go into here, don’t have the possibility to get a well paid job. Due to this, their lifestyles are often unhealthy with a lot of stress, they don’t have access to expensive housing or to the best schools. Since I am much closer to the former than the latter group, I often ponder on what I have done to deserve a good life.

I have studied hard from elementary school (often much harder than my colleagues), I went to a good high school, thanks to which I could get admitted to one of the best universities in Croatia. There I chose one of the most difficult elective courses which led me to get an offer for postgraduate studies in Croatia and Sweden. This ultimately brought me to where I am today – living with a loving and happy family in the center of one of the most exciting cities in the world, having a good job, and being able to afford most things I could ever desire (which in my particular case means a lot of travelling). So, I worked hard, I was not afraid of taking risks, I made some pretty good decisions along the way, which means that I deserve to be where I am today, right? A lot of people seem to reason in this way. They consider that their decisions in life are the only thing responsible for bringing them success.

However, I would like to advocate a different view. I think that good decisions are a necessary, but not always a sufficient precondition for success. There is one important aspect that we tend to ignore – privilege. The first attribute that has an important role in how successful we become is where we are born. This is something we have absolutely no control over. I thus cannot claim that I deserved to be born in an industrialized and well developed country (despite its problems, Croatia, which when I was born was a part of Yugoslavia, in the grand scheme of things is a well developed country). Already here I was privileged compared to roughly 90 procent of the population of the world. Then, I got a head start by being born into an upper middle class family where both of my parents had an university degree and knew the importance of guiding me to get one. Yes, I worked hard in school, but for me learning was fun and almost effortless. This again is privilege – I could have had dyslexia or ADHD, but instead I turned out to be a person who likes to learn. I did decide to take a risk by staring a life in a foreign country, but is this something I can take credit for? Or am I just fortunate to have become a person that embraces change and risk as something positive? I don’t even have to go into explaining how privileged I am as a Caucasian male…

So, yes, I am privileged and I am aware of it. This is why I don’t consider success gives the right to become arrogant. This is why I try not to look down on those who are less fortunate than me. This is why I will never allow myself to become a hypocrite that advocates closing borders. This is why I am thankful for what I have in life. Yes, I did work hard for it, but the hard work might have been meaningless had I not been privileged.

I would like to end this post by linking to a short comic by illustrator Toby Morris, which is also where I borrowed the title image from. Please give it a look, it perfectly explains how unaware we are of privilege.

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