In celebration of our fifth anniversary, we invited our dotMagis bloggers to reflect on the individual lines of St. Ignatius’s Prayer for Generosity.
“I don’t want your charity,” the young boy retorted. “I want your privilege.” My friend, a director at a local food pantry, shared with me this insight from a young client. As I did my Examen, the comment kept recurring to me.
It is relatively easy to give charity, to give in a way that maintains the ongoing power dynamics and makes me feel good. Giving charity is giving from my excess, but not so much that I am lessened by it. But to give my privilege—that’s another story.
That story begins, honestly, before I was born. I was privileged in utero by a mother who was not only healthy herself, but who lived in a healthy environment with access to nutritious food and prenatal care. Compared to that of billions of people on this earth, my privileged life was practically embedded in stone by being born into citizenship in a country of freedoms, education, and stability. I have been privileged with a relatively stable family, more than comfortable shelter, and all the basics of life. I can sleep soundly at night in peace and quiet, free from fears of violence. I have the privilege of having a good job, a loving husband, healthy children, and a community of faith that fills my soul with reinforcement and insight. And this list does not even begin to encompass the pure privilege of simply being alive, breathing deeply and sitting in the presence of God for mere wisps of time.
As the enormity of my privilege begins to overwhelm me, I realize that very little of my privilege came directly from my choices or control. Very little, if any of it, is deserved or earned. Sitting in this undeserved whirlpool of privilege, my only possible reaction is to want to share it all with others.
No longer is my frame of reference one of charity and giving from my excess, preserving first and foremost my own security. When I begin by admitting my own privilege, I have more than enough, and I want others to experience that same joy. Giving my privilege away means not handing down a life jacket to those floundering in the water around me, but actually pulling others up onto my boat. It means advocating for others to have the same privileges I have, even if that means they are no longer, well, privileges for me. Ironically, in coming to a place where I am secure enough to actually give away power, I realize one of the greatest privileges of all is to build up someone else.