Tag Archives: gifts

Checking My “Privilege”

Everyone loves a good Internet quiz. I stumbled on one on Mashable I had to do this week.

It was about determining your “privilege” quotient. There were 100 check off boxes. You got one point for every box you checked off. The higher your score, the more “privileged” you are. 

I got a 52, which the quiz creators seem to think is somewhat high. Despite the fact that I’m not a man, was bullied as a child, and have been discriminated against for my gender and religion. After all, I am white, have never lived below the poverty line, have traveled abroad and remain the same gender I was when I was born.

The whole fight against “privilege” strikes me somewhat odd. Or maybe I should say backwards. I certainly understand that human beings have a way to go when it comes to equality, and I applaud strides to get us there. But why exactly does that mean we attack the achievement of those who have gained comfort?

Many of the questions on the quiz seemed not to be judging me so much as they were accusing my parents of beng successful people. I don’t mean one percent successful. There are many people between those in poverty and those swimming in money. I mean employed, educated, comfortable, hard-working middle class people. 

My parents sent my brother and I to Catholic grade school and high school. They sent us both to college – they made too much to get any real financial aid but not enough that paying tuition wasn’t a real sacrifice. Our family visited my father’s family in Germany, and he helped me buy a car when I was in grad school. He and my mother now enjoy spoiling my daughters, their only grandchildren. 

My father, who came to the U.S. after World War II, learned English, became a citizen, got a college education, and became a successful engineer, considers these things major achievements. Caring for his family, and preparing a new generation to contribute to the world, was a goal he set and achieved. He is a hero to me.

But apparently in today’s conventional wisdom, providing “privilege” to my brother, me and my children, is wrong. When my father came to this great country, it was all about using freedom to create opportunity. Some were more successful than others, but everyone had a chance to better themselves. Even German immigrants after the horror of Nazi Germany. Today, the best opportunity Americans seem to find is in discovering who is to blame for their misery and using the system to take whatever someone else has earned away from them.

I did not grow up rich. Nor am I now. My husband and I pinch pennies to provide our children with all we can. My parents were not “connected” people. They kept there noses to the grindstone, and have hard work and commitment to thank for what they have and what they have given to us.

Having lived a comfortable life does not make me insensitive to the needs of others. I know many people with varied human needs. I do my best to provide support, aid and friendship that lifts those who are down. I do that because it’s the right thing to do. The very international travel and education that’s supposed to make me “privileged” has actually brought me greater understanding of others, just like it was supposed to.

Not being black, Hispanic, poor, gay, trans or whatever does not mean a person has not been discriminated against. (The quiz, interestingly, did not have questions related to age, disability, etc) I’ve faced discrimination for being Catholic, diabetic, female, depressed, married and having children. My husband has faced hardship for being a farmer, hunter, union member, energy company worker, and white man with facial hair. EVERYONE faces discrimination at some time in their lives. 

Yes there is true, heartbreaking discrimination in the world. But it won’t be eased by driving a wedge between those who have found success in life and those who have not. Instead, we should be looking to those who have achieved to learn how to do it ourselves. We should be raising one another up with the gifts God has given each of us.

“Privilege” is something that is earned through hard work. It’s something that illustrates just what we can achieve. Not something that makes us less human, or less compassionate. It’s not yet another reason to throw stones at others.

The Gifts that Keep on Giving

I face the same dilemma every Christmas.
I have absolutely no idea what I can give my parents to show them how much I cherish who they are and what they have done in my life.
I know that Christmas isn’t about presents. But in my life, I’ve come to use Christmas gifts as a way for telling people I love that they are truly valued. It’s not about what the gift costs, it’s more about showing someone you know who they are inside, or perhaps about capturing a special moment from the past. Like a few years ago when I bought my brother a box of Pez dispensers that looked like the members of KISS. But I digress.
In recent years, particularly since my children were born, I’ve come to know and love my mother and father more than I ever have in my life. Yet in this new understanding and appreciation of who they are, it’s become more and more difficult to celebrate them at Christmas time.
We often hear people talk about the feelings they have for the most special people in their lives. How friends have always “been there” for them, whatever that means. How family is the “foundation” for everything, even though they can’t stand to be in the same room with cousin so and so or aunt this and that. Or, even how we should eject from our lives anyone we care for who dares not agree with us.
Truly, I understand the amazing rarity that is my relationship with my parents. But I often take it for granted. I tire of people constantly blaming their own failures and bad decisions on mom and dad, as if everyone has what I have. I’m insulted when other women lament becoming like their mothers. I could only wish!
This problem of not being able to pay my folks the proper appreciation has been growing year by year. Mostly because I have discovered that I need their love as much as an adult and parent as I ever did growing up.
I know now that it is my parents, not the friends I once relied on, who are truly my support and strength. It was the two of them who spread the net under my family when finances threatened ruin. It was they who cried with me as I struggled through severe post-partum depression. It was mom and dad who rushed to my side when I had my heart attack, to hold my hand, hold my children and hold up my husband. No. One. Else.
And sadly, I realize with each passing day, that I will not have the blessing of their presence forever.

They challenge me, but respect my choices. They help me, but do not provide me a crutch to rest on. They pray for me, but do not expect God to forget my transgressions. I fight them, yet they stay at my side, unlike so many who have tired of my battles and brokenness.
They are indeed the ultimate gifts, equalled only by my own children and husband. And this Christmas, in my attempts to repay all they have done for me since I’ve supposedly graduated to adulthood, I’ll likely find my dad another Pittsburgh Steelers something, and my mom another hand bag or piece of jewelry she doesn’t really need.
I know they know these things are only symbols. That how I feel is so much more than I could ever express with my limited funds or mere human words.
But year after year, I’ll continue to look and pray for some thing or some way I can show them the unlimited value of the gifts they give me everyday of my life.