FOOD FOR THOUGHT
A Quick Word On Privilege
I got myself into an awkward situation the other night, and it’s been irking me since.
I was caught in a discussion with an older guy who was explaining how he was a ‘self-made’ success. Much like the cartoon above, this guy was describing how he had never been given a ‘leg up’, and that it was his work ethic alone that made him what he was today. Just as he started to get into why this mattered, I promptly, and potentially rather rudely, cut him off.
To be clear, I didn’t lose my patience with this guy for his unsubtle self-promotion, or for his overt detailing of why he was an important person. I have no problem with people being proud of their successes, no matter how they express it. Far from it.
I lost my patience with this guy because the conversation had progressed to a point where he was explaining how others can be just as successful as he is, if only they work harder than they do. He was arguing that the youth, particularly those from certain ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, should take a leaf from his book if they ever want to succeed in life.
I cut him off because what he was saying was simply not true, and it annoyed me. It’s a complete fallacy that that hard work alone is the recipe for success, and I believe such attitudes are doing harm to our society. There is a great thought experiment I often use to explain this.
It starts with a teacher in her classroom. The teacher begins by numbering her desks, one to thirty, and arranging them into rows, one behind the next. Desks one to five are in the front of the class, and 25 to 30 are at the back. She then puts a piece of white A4 paper on each desk and places a waste bin at the front of the class.
As the students enter the class, they are asked to pick a number from a hat and to sit at the corresponding desk. Once everyone is seated, the teacher asks the students to write their name on the paper, scrunch it up, and throw it into the waste bin at the front. She then adds that any student who successfully gets their paper into the bin wins a prize.
Naturally, the students in the back-row cry out ‘that’s a bit unfair, isn’t it? We…