A Few Thoughts On Privileges

April 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

I just posted about my encounter with a Nice Guy ™, and it has me thinking about privileges.  The term privilege is often used to indicate anything that is given to one group and not another, usually in talking about what a privileged or underprivileged status or position in society is.  I usually use it a bit differently to draw clear lines in my mind, because I find it hard to use when it’s so contextual and keep a grasp on the connotation.  To me, a privilege is something you get that is outside of your basic human rights, what rightfully belongs to you.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having privileges, they’re really nice and they can help you do good things.  I have lots of privileges, including relational ones, like the privilege of touching my lovers body on a regular basis and getting lots of time and attention from my best friend and having my housemate pick me up things from the store he works in when I text him.  However, I know that those are privileges.  Those things lie within their boundaries, not within mine.   I am given those things ethically only by someone else’s consent, and they are always negotiable.  When I say there is nothing wrong with “having privileges,” I mean there is nothing wrong with being given privileges consensually by the people involved.

At this stage in life, a lot of my ethical focus is on the individual and interpersonal, and I am working to get a clear vision there in order to zoom out into a larger focus.  When I catch myself feeling emo because I’m not getting what I’m used to from someone, I try to check myself.  I feel like at times it’s hard for me to understand the difference between being open and honest about my emotions and being emotionally punishing or coercive.  So many of my close people are very sensitive, especially to me, they care very much about what I am feeling and experiencing.  I feel like one consent skill I’ve learned is to reinforce the other person’s decision when they have guilt because I am sad or disappointed by it.

This has been a key skill in my relationships with my best friend Emily.  When we were younger, we could help each other deal with negative emotions, so long as we weren’t the cause of them.  In that case, we’d have an emo crisis.  Now we can support each other even when we are the catalyst for one another’s negative feelings. We’re both more able to remember not to try and cater to the other person’s feelings or try to suppress them.  We both know that’s what the other person wants, which is a key element here.  Learning to prioritize your own rights over another person’s feelings, especially if you’ve had abusive parents and/or partners in the past, can be a trying and prolonged ordeal.  And it helps very much if you get into relationships where people help you maintain your boundaries when they start breaking down, rather than merely testing them.

I hope I can develop a clearer vision of the difference between rights and privileges as I mature, and figure out where my boundaries are and where other people’s are.  And I am hoping to zoom out.  Systemic privileges offered to me in this culture encroach incredibly far into the rights of other people, often folks I will never see or know about, which is an added privilege being sold to me by corrupt corporations and governments.  The main reason I am upset with this society is that it coerces and dominates rampantly, and by being here it often feels impossible to figure out how not to be a part of it.  I don’t want privileges that violate other people’s basic rights.  And I don’t want privileges that compromise mine, like the privilege of having someone else think for me and do my coercing for me.

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§ One Response to A Few Thoughts On Privileges

  • Anonymous says:

    Growing up, my relationship with most people my age was really, really skewed. In middle and high school, bullying often came from within a small group of friends (two different groups, in two different schools, actually). I think this situation kind of conditioned me to have very little expectations of people – as long as you aren’t actively harassing me or playing psychological games, we’re cool.

    Then, when I fell in love for the first time, etc., I was very aware that they owed me nothing – I never thought that they were doing me harm by rejecting me romantically. But it still hurt. So I spent a year watching my every feeling. Whenever I thought “I wish she liked me” or “I’m afraid of losing her”, I stopped right in my tracks. I’d tell myself, “This isn’t about you – her life is hers to live. Be grateful you’re friends at all.” Eventually, I stopped being so afraid. I’m not saying I don’t experience loss, nor that I never wish for more than what I have, but it’s a bittersweet feeling.

    Recently, though, I’ve caught myself having certain reactions – like yesterday. I found something really interesting online, and I wanted to read it to my partner. She said, “No, not now. I’m reading” – which is a perfectly fine reaction. But I got upset. I don’t think I made a big deal out of it, but I did get upset. And I know I got upset not because I’m entitled to her attention, but because she’d be hurt if our roles were reversed (well, not if I were working or doing something “important”, only if it were leisure). And when she is hurt, she has a really difficult time figuring out what is an appropriate reaction and what isn’t. I trust that her intention is not to hurt me, and I know that intellectually she realizes she is not entitled to my attention, but her reaction to any rejection is always icy cold at best.

    When I feel disappointed, I go out of my way to convey warmth – I don’t hide my disappointment, but I try to make sure that I’m okay, and that I still like the person, with my words, tone and body language. Which is why it’s so upsetting that I actually got upset over something so trivial. I think that after 7 years, I’ve grown embittered. I hate it, and maybe I can change it, but there you go: I’m bitter. I find myself upset over things I don’t even care about, because I know that if I did those things myself, I’d be faced with coldness and aggression.

    It’s particularly hurtful because this is exactly the way she treats her abusive parents. I understand that it has to be done with them. I understand they respect no boundaries and never stick to their word, unless they fear retribution of some sort. But I’ve never done her any harm. I’m not responsible for a lifetime of abuse. Sigh, it’s complicated, particularly when you’re dealing with tone/body language. It’s difficult to make the other person acknowledge there is even a problem. I don’t want to make her feel she has to hide her feelings from me – but I wish I didn’t have to learn about her feelings in pushy, guilt-inducing ways.

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