Privilege Blog

A Responsibility Of Privilege, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:41am



I know you all feel as I do about kindness. Maybe thoughtfulness is one of the next practices that might come with privilege? In other words, given education, and experience, do we owe the world a willingness to stand and think?

I was talking to my younger British friends, online of course, about parenting in America. They told me that from where they sit, young American mothers appear to be polarized. In this case, the battle is Sleep Trainers vs. Attachment Parenters. Do you put your baby on a schedule and let her “cry it out” when bedtime comes, or do you carry him everywhere, including into your bed? Apparently there’s no room for muddling through, or adapting to your particular child.

I can barely even bring myself to talk about our larger political environment. I dread the upcoming presidential election. So much stupidity, so much vitriol on the way. I think I could handle one or the other, both, please, no.

Here’s an untested hypothesis about our situation. America’s big and diverse. We’re riddled with gaps, in wealth, culture, life experience. Meanwhile, everyone wants to be heard. First the FCC removed the requirements for radio and television to provide equal representation for opposing points of view on important subjects. Then the number of communication outlets proliferated, with cable and opening up of the spectrum.

Finally, well, much as I love it, social media. Commence polarized yelling.

So America fights, entrenched for safety, lobbing absolutes across the battlefield in an attempt at kapow. When many of us know, if we’re honest, it’s not that simple. Nothing you can imagine that has more than one actor is simple. The mother/baby dyad is already complex, countries’ political, economic, and legal systems defy certainty.

It’s so tempting to find a position and stick to it. It’s easy to form opinions, and then look for data and anecdotes to reinforce what you want to believe. It’s hard to remember, “I could be wrong.”

I’m not advocating a mass retreat to uncertainty. Women in particular need to practice outspoken assurance. But I do think that when we live in abundance, our thoughtfulness and careful address of the other may allow us to repay some of our debt.

I’m staking many a good night’s sleep on this theory, so I hope I have it right. And no, I’m not going into the business of motivational posters, just playing. A privilege. Enjoy your weekend, may abundance follow you around.

35 Responses

  1. Glad to know I’m not the only one dreading the next election cycle. Yep, stupidity, vitriol, and all of the energy focused on “winning” rather than solving problems or helping people. Go team, never mind the purpose of the game.

    Parenting? Definitely a muddler here. :-)

    1. That’s a really good way to put it: “Go team, never mind the purpose of the game.” Maybe not accidental, our concurrent rise in extreme college football fandom:(.

  2. I have always loved politics, but the current political environment has made me very sad. It seems like our country can make no progress because our elected officials will not ever consider what is best for our country over their ideological zeal and desire to make the “other side” look bad. They have only succeeded in making our country look bad.

    Right now, Bernie Sanders is my candidate! Yes, I know he doesn’t have a chance.

    1. @Susan, Funnily enough, we have a 70+ year old governor in California, and he’s doing a heckuva job. Just doesn’t care about his “appeal,” knows how to move the system, focused on priorities. Hmmm.

  3. It hasn’t been a great week for civility.
    I think the cure is a big dose of respect for others, even when they appear to be as wrong as can be.
    I know that after I read the accounts of the fellow bounced to his death in the back of a police van, after having had his spine cracked by members of those charged with protecting the public, I had to go back and reconsidered some of my opinions about right and wrong.

  4. I advocate representing opinion as such, not as fact, and have long been dismayed about of the level of critical thinking found in the free-for-all social media world.

    In between never saying what you really think and the attack style, there is a huge arena in which to express thoughtful, reasoned and even inconsistent exploration of messy issues, but the current media have reduced outlets for such nuanced exposition.

  5. It’s taken me a lot of years of living to realize that even though my opinion might be right for me, it’s not necessarily correct for you. I observe the young being so adamant, now I try to remember to suggest rather than tell. Diversity is good, makes life interesting.

    Another lesson is that I don’t need to have an opinion about every issue; much more relaxing to just let some things go on by. Probably what I’ll do about your presidential election, since I’m Canadian. Unfortunately our politics have the same emphasis on winning at all costs, rather than looking at what is best for the country, and even the planet.

    1. @Northmoon, It is important to allow oneself not to have an opinion. Sometimes the rest of the world has trouble with that decision.

  6. I think a lot of the problem is that people think way too much of themselves and their opinions. So you end up with screaming journalists on talk shows and programs like Bridezillas. Really, is there any thoughtful behavior on any of that? Whatever happened to putting others’ needs first?

    1. @Mary Anne, I wonder if these people do think so highly of themselves? I always feel that if someone feels really truly good about themselves that’s when they don’t need to scream:(.

  7. It’s an election year in Canada… so the rhetoric is flying think and fast up here too. Only thing is that we don’t go into election mode a year in advance, like down your way. Well…at least not openly. Not proud of the way things have moved politically in Canada in the last few years. So polarized. It’s downright un-Canadian.
    As for opinions. It’s very hard to form an educated one when media types just interview each other instead of digging into stories and presenting some really illuminating and useful information to the public. Or when they just talk “approval ratings” instead of facts followed by analysis. Oh dear, don’t get me started.

  8. Here in the UK we are within days of our next general election , being promised all our dreams will come true if we vote for this , or that , candidate . As we are on holiday , we were responsible citizens & applied well in advance for our postal votes . They didn’t arrive before we left home . My husband is rather cross but I’m rather relieved .
    Wendy in York – temporarily in Scotland

  9. In the political arena, it’s hard for me to be “thoughtful” because I no longer feel I know the facts or the truth about much. I dread the upcoming elections. I have also backed away from certain “real-life” friends because of political statements that they have posted on FB, more than I ever wanted to know about them and their radical and bigoted thoughts.

    1. I think if one really feels that one can’t understand, it’s best to voice few opinions but choose from the heart.

  10. I thought the recent New York Times op-ed piece by Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Nossel on the controversy surrounding PEN’s honouring of Charlie Hebdo said it well. In summing up the various responses by a number of well-known, thoughtful writers/members of PEN, the authors say, “Our goal has been to avoid a reductive binary; this is a nuanced question, and all of these writers have made persuasive moral arguments.”

    Complexity is challenging, often frustrating, and the desire to simplify is understandable — it’s often even productive. But it’s dangerous as well, as your post points out convincingly. For quite a few years now, I’ve tried to live up to a personal motto: Embrace Complexity. It means that I’m often more likely to waver and to live with some insecurity, to take longer making decisions. . . but it also means taking more time to Listen and Read and Be Thoughtful, and I think those are worthwhile contributions that I can try to make. A good post, thank you.

    1. Ah thank you. Reductive binary is such a good term! It does take more time, undoubtedly, and a constant intent.

  11. I am glad that my son is learning about respect and tolerance as part of their current unit of inquiry at school. We’re having discussions about accepting that differences in opinions abound and that accepting is not about surrendering your own beliefs, but rather simply according the others the respect that each one of us deserves.

  12. Shrillness and divisiveness are the rule of the day in politics these days. We need a great Uniter more than ever.

  13. The older I get the more I find myself living by Cromwell’s plea: I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken. I am an academic, so careful thought is my bread and butter. I find it distressing, though that so many of my students reach for a shrill assertion of certainty rather than take the time to reflect and learn. I know it is my job to teach them this amongst other things, and that job gets more difficult every day.

  14. I definitely think social media plays a large part in the polarization of thought. People can hide behind anonymous handles & say whatever they want without any real consequences. The things people say online are often things they would never dream of saying in a face-to-face conversation. They can find like-minded people and only associate with them in forums, message boards, facebook groups, etc. which only perpetuates the cycle.

    News is reduced to soundbites, headlines, or tweets. There’s not a lot of space to be nuanced in 140, or however many, characters.

    It’s also so easy to click that submit button. People post things online all the time without thinking, & once it’s there, there’s no getting rid of it.

    I know I sound like a Luddite or a technophobe, but I’ve always believed that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, & to think before you speak, & even more so online. Provoking thoughts, as always, Lisa. :)

    1. Thank you. I agree with you. And I am hoping that a countervailing trend towards more thoughtful, medium- and long-term online writing, develops. I can hope.

  15. I generally stay out of debates on parenting style as I don’t have kids, but occasionally if friends who are parents get entrenched in that debate, I sometimes have fun toying with them by joining in the conversation & giving examples from my experience raising puppies. There really are parallels between raising puppies & raising kids, but I know they’ll have little or no interest in comparing them–it’s just a fun way to lighten things up a bit & get the 2 parents to agree that their precious children are nothing like my dogs! I’ve seen excellent permissive parents & I’ve seen excellent strict parents; I just think they should keep on doing what they’re doing if it’s working rather than trying to change other parents’ minds (and making us those of us who don’t have kids listen to it too). When it comes to politics, I’ve never identified completely with either of our two major parties & most of my friends have different political views than I do, so when we do discuss politics, it’s generally nicely & respectfully. If not, though, as with debating parents who start arguing vociferously, I look for something to gently tease them about in order to defuse a tense discussion that nobody can possibly “win”.

    1. Maybe there’s a way to compare politics to puppies too? :). Actually, one of the calmest new mothers I knew, said as her colicky baby cried, “Oh well. It’s just like raising puppies.”

  16. I think what you’re saying is “practice humility,” which is why my husband never gets into political arguments and I do. I’ve been telling myself that I have to establish a rule for myself: Only post positive articles about changes and social concerns. NO negatives allowed!

    Now, I need to go and practice this. Thanks for the reminder, Lisa!

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