Thursday, December 1, 2011

Responsible Privilege: A Rambling Rant?

I've been spending a lot of time thinking, lately, about what it is about our culture that makes us do what we do.  There has been a lot of analysis lately in the blogosphere about this Ivy League/Prep/WASPy culture.  Most of the time, they are looking at the outward characteristics of this/these groups.  But very little time is spent analyzing the dominate character traits. That's why I like Aldrich's article so much.  He uses the superficial outward appearance to describe what is going on inside of us.

From my experience, the most admirable (some would say foolish) quality about our culture is a very high level of optimism.  We take it for granted that we are going to be around for a long, long time.  Even if we, as individuals, pass away, we take it as a given that our line will stay right where it is for generations.  This is why we invest in property and possessions that will outlive us (and why we are less likely to "waste" our money on short-term investments and items). 

When I buy a house, it's not simply my house.  It is my son's house.  It is my grandson's house (pardon the sexism--that's how I think).  When I buy a watch (which I didn't do--I'm wearing my grandfather's), it doesn't just have to make it through the next couple of years.  I've bought it for the future as well.  Funny side note, but all of my grandfather's jewelry (watch and wedding band) is in white gold or silver.  My father's (watch and wedding band) is all in yellow gold.  Mine (watch and wedding band) is all white or silver.  I suppose my son's will be all yellow.  See my point?

Now some will take this as being egotistical--that we don't think we will ever lose our "power" (whatever that means).  But I think it causes us to actually be more responsible with our resources (which may, in turn, be the reason we are able  to hold onto our "power").  My resources are not my own.  They belong to the future.  This observation shouldn't be Earth-shattering.  But I think that if you look around at a lot of folks in Our culture you'll find that it's true. 

Many others will look at the idea of Privilege (having things given to one) as unfair.  Now, if the Privilege came from under-handed dealings and the exploitation of others, I would agree.  But Privilege in and of itself is not unfair.  What is unfair is to lump every Privileged family together and label them. 

Don't forget that, within this culture, Privilege comes also with a healthy dose of Responsibility.  We do not really get to keep anything that we are given.  We are Caretakers for the future.  If anything, the Privilege becomes a burden, because we are called upon to maintain what our forefathers have handed down--if not add to it.  (Please, don't read this as a complaint, merely a reality.) 

But something has happened.  A lot of families have lost touch with this idea of providing for the future.  They have focused on the Privilege and forgotten about the Responsibility.  These families are the ones in the papers with the wasteful, dissolute progeny getting photographed in less than flattering situations.  Many families are wasting their Privilege and giving the quiet masses of Responsible families a black eye.

I think it's fair to say that this has always been the case to a certain extent.  One could look at the annals of the past century in this country and find numerous examples of Irresponsible Privilege.  Maybe the reason we are more aware of it today comes from an increase in the availability and speed of information dissemination.  I'm not a sociologist--I don't pretend to have any answers.

But I do think that those who are still of the Responsible Privileged class should remember where that Privilege came from and where it should be going.

Do I deserve the Privilege I've been given?  No.  Have I done anything to earn this Privilege?  No.  Have I been trained to be a Caretaker of this Privilege?  You better believe it.  We are all born into a role that we have no control over.  None of use deserve the role we're given.  But it is our Responsibility to do the best we can with what we have and provide a better world for those who follow me.

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