None. Nada. Zero. Zilch.
“Have you decided who you are voting for, Daddy?” She is in the backseat, and we’ve just driven past a road-side rally where no less than three of the candidates and a gaggle of their supporters are waving signs and drumming up a barrage of honks from passing cars.
“Yup.” I reply.
It’s election day. Or rather, it’s by-election day and our community has been roused to action with a few thousand lawn signs and dozens of campaign mailings stuffed into our door to fill a mid-term vacancy left by a retiring politician.
“Who?” She probes.
“Not the guy you don’t like.” I answer back, vaguely.
“Good.” She says, a beat of triumph in her voice. At age seven I would never have suspected even a glimmer of an interest in politics from her, but they say that by-elections tend to rouse more local issues from the political woodwork than a full-on national campaign might. And this round our local issue was about playgrounds. “I don’t like him.” She adds.
Seven-year-olds, it seems, care about playgrounds. Whodathunk?
We’d breached the topic of elections one day on our way home from the daily school pickup. We have a ten minute drive down a relatively major road that –over the course of a Saturday a few weeks earlier– had become election sign alley. She had been reading out names, asking questions, and noticing that there was a correlation between some of the grumbling dinnertime conversations between her parents and those new community decorations. I had opted to try and outline the basics of representational democracy in language a second grader might understand, but didn’t really get any traction until we brought up the part of the story that involved a chunk of her park and playground getting re-zoned into medium-density housing… and how one of the candidates had his name stamped on that particular bit of city planning back when he was a municipal politician.
To her parents, the issue was shaded grey. To her, it was black and white. And it was a foot-in-the-door of the curiosity and interest of the mind of a highly distractable seven-year-old.
“Can I vote for you, daddy?”
“Nope.” I shrug. “You have a few more years before you’re allowed to do that.”
building integrity, rule 014
being engaged in a community means understanding issues affecting it: pick a side
Politics is fuzzy for everyone, especially a seven-year-old. But community engagement is so much more than politics. Integrity grows from having a stake in something bigger than yourself, and wanting to see the best possible outcome for that bigger thing.
I want her to think bigger. I want for her to care for where she lives and maybe even feel like she can effect change or have an impact. My little vote didn’t do much in the way of swaying the fate of her park that day, but I took a side, brought her along for the ride, and marked my ballot with her watching on. Example set.
This was supposed to be a work of fiction, the next in my “Saturday Stories” series. But I started writing, editing, and re-writing and somewhere along the way it stopped being fiction and started being something else entirely. That’s how these things happen sometimes. Part of me hesitates to post it … and you’ll need to read it to get a glimpse at understanding why … but I owe my readers some words this morning. These are those words.
The Confusing State of Being Narcissistic Privileged Me
A confession. I’m a terrible person. I can’t help it. And you should hate me for that.
But then I honestly don’t know what to do about it.
Where am I going with this? Well, here’s the thing about me… the bio that will put everything else into perspective: I’m just this guy. But, no, more than that… I’m a white, straight, middle-class male in my thirties. Married and a father. I’m university educated, employed full time in a salaried job, and I have a reasonably impressive resume to go along with it all. I’m healthy, fit, and well-fed. I own my home, am virtually debt free, and can get into one of my two vehicles whenever I feel like it, to go wherever I please, buy whatever I want, and look at whatever I feel like looking at. The world, as they say, is my oyster.
On top of that impressive stroke of luck, I enjoy a life of often too-simple luxury … such as the fact that I take public transit because I want to … not because I need to.
Or, I wear whatever I want to wear without fear of being objectified or otherwise adversely judged based on that.
Also, I eat whatever looks tasty, my choice really only limited by a niggling guilt of not eating too much of those rich, unhealthy foods that will make me fatter and force me to buy new clothes. But not because I can’t afford all the new clothes I want, I just dislike shopping and am probably a very vain person.
Then there is the fact that I watch whatever program tickles my fancy on television or the internet, plus I’m literate and completely free to exercise that right, so I read the books I feel like reading and I can (mostly) write whatever I feel like writing, hitting the publish button without honest fear of reprisal from governments or someone who doesn’t like what I have to say.
When it comes to personal safety, my imagination is more dangerous than my reality. I run alone … and worse, alone through dark streets … at night … with headphones on and music blaring, and my biggest concern is pulling a muscle, or maybe tripping and falling down on a cracked side-walk. It’s not a fear of being robbed, chased, or attacked … not of being assaulted … not of getting shot. When I see a police officer, I generally get a friendly wave, nod, or smile. In my narrow little slice of the world, police manage traffic at road races or investigate vehicle collisions, and I’ve never once in my life seen a cop actually draw their gun.
Then there are the expectations from others. If I make a bad decision, people don’t automatically assume I’m a broken person, or bereft of morality, or blame it on my gender, race or upbringing … they assume I’m having a bad day, or struggling with something that I am fully capable of working through. I am surrounded by like-minded individuals, cushioned from most overt criticism, and boosted forward and upward in nearly every step I make in life.
See, I live a life of undeserved privilege because I won some random genetic and cultural existential lottery, being born at the right time, in the right place, into the right family, with the right cultural heritage, and the right gender. And it means from almost any perspective other than my own that I am a terrible person. I can’t help it. And you should hate me for that.
No really. This isn’t some kind of ironic, reverse-psychological argument attempting to evoke a state of perceived guilt … and thus your pity. You shouldn’t pity me. You should hate me, and all the more so because I’m usually pretty clueless about it. I see my privilege, sure. I taste it all around me, and wallow in it with careless abandon. But, even as much as I sense it there, the worst part of it is that I don’t know how to use it in any meaningful or useful way. I know deep down that I’m squandering it, and while sometimes that makes me sad, mostly I just get on with my privileged life and ignore the noise around me.
But then there are days … or weeks, sometimes years … when I ache and yearn to do more with it. But what? Because honestly don’t know what to do about it, or how to go about it. No one teaches you these things, because I don’t think anyone actually knows.
I look out into the world … though, on a side note, let me remind you that if it wasn’t for my unrestricted access to all kinds of media, news and reporting and the people who risk their lives to deliver it, I wouldn’t know anything much of the world at all … and I see the fragments of a chaotic world through the metaphorical glass floor at my feet. I stand, largely protected by my anonymity in the vastness of my homeland and the vagueness of my existence, cushioned by layers upon layers of fabricated protections, real or imagined (I expect, but don’t know for sure) and am able to ponder these things from a safe distance.
They reach out and rattle at the floor, but part of me knows that unless that floor cracks … or unless I choose to find the stairs and consciously, actively, voluntarily enter that fray … that it may as well be just another television show, just another fiction constructed for my entertainment.
I don’t like knowing that and it makes me a terrible person. I can’t help it. And you should hate me for that.
A life of narcissistic privilege has it’s drawbacks, of course. Those drawbacks should not evoke your pity either, mind you, because while not exactly fitting into the category of so-called “first world problems” meme they rank about the same level of condemnation from an external audience. But if I was being perfectly honest … and that’s what I’m trying to do with these words, by the way … I’d suggest that most of those drawbacks are largely centred on some kind of fear. My fear. Fear of losing what I have. Fear of change. Fear of risk. Fear of participation in a way that exposes my position of privilege to attack or ridicule or decay. Even writing an article like this one, stating frankly and plainly that part of me would like to acknowledge my privilege and figure out how I can use it for good rather than evil, there is a lingering … no, scratch that … a fundamental and blood curdling fear that I am naively stepping down those aforementioned stairs, or at least peaking, reaching, probing through the gap, and entering a fray that my life of safety and privilege has not prepared me to handle.
Does being afraid of something make one a coward, or does failing to face a fear make one a coward? Because again, being a coward would make me a terrible person. I can’t help it. And you should hate me for that.
In my thirty-plus years of being raised in this life, I’ve been swathed in media and I fully admit that my perceptions have been unilaterally warped. A steady diet of science fiction and fantasy entertainment has shaped my subconscious mind to the notion that every problem can be fixed by a swooping-in hero, yielding a mighty technological weapon or a superior magical power, and almost always that wielding is done by an alpha-male to the rescue of the damsel in distress. The good guys always win, and the world keeps humming along … humming along … humming along … but. But that’s not reality, is it? I know that. In the real world, the world below my metaphorical glass floor, technology and power almost always come at a price, real heroes rarely swoop in, no one … not as defined by gender, class, colour, orientation or status … is truly waiting or looking to be saved by anyone. And sadly … madly … cruelly it is usually the alpha males who are causing the most problems to begin with.
I have been fibbing a wee bit with these words. I’ve repeatedly written above that “I can’t help it.” The truth is not so simple, of course. I can help it. I’m not a victim here. Not even a little bit. And of course, unequivocally, I should be able to help it. I must be able to. I need to. Or at least I need to know that I should be able to … attempt to … find a way to help it. We, each of us, is responsible for our own destiny … our own interaction with the universe … and our own impact or lack thereof. Claiming that I can’t help it has for so long been a cop-out for me. Claiming that I can have no impact on what others think or how others act is rooted in that fear I wrote of earlier. It’s me being a coward. It is refusing to face those evils, things like militant racism, divisive politics, ugly misogyny and hateful fundamentalism because doing so might mean leaving the safety of my glass-floored room and walking down those metaphorical stairs into a fray that may disrupt … no, almost certainly will disrupt … that life of quiet privilege that I’m living.
But, again, I honestly don’t know what to do about it.
No one teaches you these things.
No one can.
I don’t want to be that terrible person. So, I’m going to follow the only steps I know how to follow and see what happens. Step one? I don’t know, but I think … just think maybe, perhaps … that step one is simply acknowledging it. Step one is putting my hand up and saying I want to know. I want to understand. I want to do something, to stand behind what is right, and to be counted among the force that will make the lives of those around me share in the goodness and freedom that I routinely enjoy, knowing that in order to make that happen it needs to be my perspective that shifts, me that changes. Just that. Just one small step one. And then … well, I don’t know. Perhaps, less confusion.