The Privilege of Self-Actualization.
As a queer-feminist-activist-social worker, privilege is a topic of ongoing conversation in my life.
Gender. Race. Class. Sexual orientation. Gender identity. Age. The list goes on and on. Simply put, some people get unearned advantages by virtue of their classification in certain groups, and these advantages often come at the expense of other people. We all have privilege in this world. We all lack privilege in this world.
I am tested over and over again, and almost every time that I am reminded of my own privilege, it leaves me with an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach and a little sting of embarrassment in my chest.
That’s all part of the learning/unlearning… leaning in to the discomfort of imperfection and injustice and getting a little better at sitting with it every time — sometimes, microscopically so. With each experience, you learn to treat yourself a little more gently. You realize that you still have a long way to go, and probably always will, and that’s okay. You learn to treat others more gently.
My partner and I have taken to making little jokes here and there that remind us of our privilege.
The other day, she was complaining because she didn’t know what she was hungry for. Then we got frustrated because there was nothing good on Netflix. I killed a succulent by overwatering it last week. I’ve had writer’s block for several months now. I’m feeling busy at work because I have a lot to finish before I take a 10-day vacation.
What it comes down to is, my biggest problems are going on inside of me. If that’s not privilege, I don’t know what is. I am safe, healthy, sheltered, fed, supported, and loved. It doesn’t mean I should stop complaining (although I could do less of it) and be grateful all the time (although I could do more of it). It doesn’t mean all things in my external life are in order (nor will all things ever be).
Life is fucking hard, no matter where you’re situated. There’s no getting around that. What all of this means to me is, I have a responsibility to be authentic, because I have the privilege to self-actualize.
Let’s talk Maslow for a moment. He noted that your basic needs must be met before you can achieve self-actualization — the motivation to be your best and highest self. To learn. To unlearn. To create and discover and move and be moved and fulfill. What a privilege it is that so many of us take for granted. Myself included.
It’s not that we shouldn’t or can’t be upset about the shit in our lives. It just means that it is our responsibility to own that shit. To suspend it in front of us, and look at it through a magnifying lens. Many lenses, in fact. To be the subject of our own analysis. To spend time with the truth inside. Unpack our experiences. Release what no longer fits.
My formula and yours will likely be completely different, but we can certainly compare notes. Figure out what works. Ask for help. Get stuck. Try to get unstuck. It’s a privilege to have the time and head space for that.
My call to action, for those of you who deep down know that you can, is: use it. Don’t take it for granted. Feel it. Be grateful for the feeling.
All that learning and unlearning you’ve got to do, all of those uncomfortable reminders of how far you’ve yet to go… lean in to them. Show up for yourself. It will likely make you feel vulnerable and raw and overwhelmed and frustrated, but all that means is that you are on the brink of something.
If only you’d just look deeper. If only you’d let everything around you reflect back in to your soul. If only you’d stop for a moment, just one moment, and be curious about yourself. It’s a privilege, and it is your responsibility. You can be better. You can be the best version of yourself. You can know yourself. You can align your actions with your values. You can have values! How awesome is that?
The awareness. The learning. The discomfort. The power. That is privilege, friends. Do it. Do it for everyone who can’t. Do it for everyone who won’t. Do it for everyone who will. Do it for the Universe. Do it for your soul. Do it for yourself. If you have no other motivation for it, do it because you can. When you do, you will become a force. A benevolent contagion.
You will become even more powerful than you originally realized, because you are suddenly able to help others realize it. Do that too.
It won’t be easy, it won’t always feel good, and sadly, you won’t ever be perfect.
So, remember: Be gentle with yourself.
Alex Brown is a musician, poet, blogger, romantic, and social justice advocate in northern California. She is constantly on the path to something, with little to no awareness or certainty as to what it is. She works diligently to become comfortable with that uncertainty and ambiguity. Thinking, overthinking, analyzing, overanalyzing, exploring, learning, writing, singing, unlearning, re-learning, reading, and laughing are among her favorite activities. You can access her more intimately on her blog and website.