Over the several decades of my life, I have been blessed to receive a great many things which only an idiot would claim I deserved or had earned.
It’s often easy to fall into the trap of seizing the low-hanging fruit while patting one’s self on the back about one’s own cleverness, hard work, and rights — all while never once acknowledging that one did not plant the tree from which the fruit grows, nor did one do anything to assist the tree in growing.
This is what arrogance and privilege is all about — taking from the labor of others without even having to be aware that you are doing so, stepping into fields you never tilled and walking out with fruit while those who have tilled them can not even eat from them.
While some forms of privilege can be easily renounced and the proceeds of them can be given over to worthy causes, some are too deeply ingrained into how we see ourselves and what we believe about the world for that to be an easy or simple choice.
Most people will require a “come to Jesus moment” or a bolt of eureka enlightenment or a radicalizing series of events to force them to walk away from their privileges. While I’ve come close to such a moment several times, the siren song has always called me back.
As much as I know in my mind and feel in my heart that only a radical break from the current American way of life has any chance of saving us from the consequences of the centuries of mistakes made on this continent (and by its agents around the world), making that break for myself alone seems pointless — and I lack the leadership abilities necessary to start a movement.
So, I find myself dwelling on the mistakes that I have made personally in the hopes that, in however many days I may have remaining, I am able to shed some light into the darkness and to avoid making things worse.
In that hope, I will use this space to confess some of my mistakes so that perhaps I can avoid repeating them and others can learn from them. Not today. These confessions will have to wait until another day, as I don’t want to over-strain the indulgence of my readers. But I will confess here in the days to come.
We like to believe that we learn from our mistakes, and sometimes we do — but mostly, it seems to me, we’re just glad to survive them.
Sure, mistakes usher in consequences, many of which aren’t apparent until days or weeks or years later. Even so, if we survive them, we tend to think that means we were blessed, given the grace of extra time, and we can deal with the consequences later.
Reality has its own time table, though, and She decides when the fullness of time has occurred and when the debts must be paid. One great injustice of the world is that most of us do not live long enough to pay even a fraction of our debts, to settle the scales for the consequences of our actions and choices, and that others are forced to pay instead.
When people speak of “paying it forward,” I’m sure they intend to refer to sharing the good fortune that grace and good luck and our own efforts have given us.
Still, I do wonder whether it’s the negative consequences that are far more likely to be our heritage.
Or, as William Shakespeare put it : “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”