There’s no denying that most of us involved with Her Campus are very lucky. It means that we have the privilege to be in university or college and that’s likely only the first of our many other advantages. Especially as an abled, white, upper-middle-class person who’s getting a post-secondary education, I regularly recognize the benefits that I receive simply due to the circumstances of my birth. Even the disadvantages that I theoretically face as a woman and a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community have yet to actively affect me.
I have so much in my life to be grateful for and I try to practice this gratitude every day. But as I’ve become older and I’ve met more people outside of my (also white, middle-upper class) hometown, I’ve increasingly had to grapple with the guilt of having more privilege than others in my life and how to make some kind of use of it.
While this guilt is certainly valid, it also feels so ridiculous that some of my worst problems are only feeling bad about other people’s problems. They have to deal with awful situations by themselves and face the consequences; I have the privilege to sit and watch and say, for the thousandth time: “I’m sorry, that sucks”.
Because I am sorry and it does suck, I’m also rarely able to better my friends’ situations except to be there for them as moral support. I do think that providing this empathy and moral support is still a valiant effort at helping the people in our lives. Having a strong social group amid the darker moments is important, but in the back of my mind, there’s always a nagging concern that I’m not doing enough.
One of my fantasy life dreams would be to buy a cottage in the forest and write a book and tend to my garden. And when this dream comes to mind, I also immediately feel the guilt that tells me how selfish I am to imagine such a thing, that tells me to pick a better ambition of using my privilege to help others instead.
There’s a sharp contrast within me, between my comfort level as an introvert that just wants to live a peaceful life and a calling of some sort to go out in the world and do good. I don’t believe that I’ll necessarily have a huge impact on whatever I pursue. But I do want to help others.
I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to pick just one or the other, myself or those around me. Selfishness and people-pleasing are not the only options here. I can recognize my privilege and use it to bring attention to things that matter to me, using my guilt purposefully but without being overwhelmed by it. In the end, feeling crippling guilt about what’s out of our control won’t do anybody any good whatsoever.
I didn’t ask for this privilege. We’re all dealt a different hand, some fairer than others, but all worthy, nonetheless. And as long as I can actively stay humble, self-aware and kind, I’m going to keep living my life as I feel called to and hopefully help others along the way.