The privileges of the underprivileged. The struggles of the privileged.
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Today I’d love to share with you something I’ve been thinking a lot about in the past couple of years and discussed with my online friend Liz (Hi Liz!) over Skype last week:
As you probably already know, I’ve always believed that anything is possible. Everyone is capable of reaching anything they want. At least, in theory. Because it’s not that easy to know what one wants. It’s not easy to point a finger at something and call it one's calling because to cut that whole theory short, what you want eventually needs to be on your horizon. "What" you want won't just be there waiting for you. You must have a rough idea of how to get "there" to be able to call it what you want without feeling like a fool. No one wants to feel like a fool because that would mean to show vulnerability.
If someone’s from an underprivileged background, it will eventually take longer for them to figure out all their options and how to get to their choices. It’s not that things are impossible. It’s more that there are no shortcuts, and most people will discover what they are meant to be doing in a year or even a decade-long process. It’s like with reading books. You read one book that mentions another book about another topic and you realize you are also excited about this other book, about this other topic. You are curious and you want to know more, but you didn’t know you did until you read the previous book.
Also, let’s face it, you’ll only pick up a certain book if you feel like you’re entitled to read that title; you feel that you can grasp that topic.
Especially when we’re little, we seek permission and we’re dependent on what others give us "to read,” what they show to us, how they foster us. Either we get lucky or we don’t. If we don’t, there's the risk we’ll feel bitter because we’ll think we missed our chance. We’re too old.
On the other hand, when you come from a privileged background, you’ll be presented with many more choices than someone who’s dependent on seeking these out mostly by themselves. Additionally, being from a privileged background doesn’t just expose you to different possibilities; a privileged background also helps kick all the doors to all these different possibilities open. Which is great, but again, difficult.
When you’re from an underprivileged background, everything you do feels like a big adventure and every piece of information you acquire like a treasure you found, all by yourself. Every teeny, tiny step you manage to make that brings you forward gives you a feeling of (earned) progress. And the best thing about it; it doesn’t even matter how little the steps you make are because coming from an underprivileged background, every accomplishment helps you climb the social ladder, even by a little bit.
On the other side, when you’re from a privileged background, you don’t experience that same sort of pride because deep down, you know it wasn’t you that pushed these doors open. The natural reaction, at least from what I’ve observed, is that people who grew up in a privileged background start seeking doors that haven’t been opened for them. Instead of climbing the vertical ladder, kids from a privileged background seek out horizontal ladders. They're busy finding something that hasn’t been claimed and that they could claim themselves. They fear they aren’t good enough and they question their purpose and how to establish themselves without being compared to others or having to deal with prejudice. They too are searching and in my opinion, their battle might sometimes feel even harder because they must, or they feel they must, prove they’re worthy.
To me, today and with the social net, it doesn’t really feel like the social background will matter that much in the future if we architecture the structure of it in the right way. At least, there's a chance we can create an inclusive world if we make the right choices.
Technically, everyone has access to the same information. It’s democratic, so as long we all keep sharing what we've learned and make that information accessible to everyone, we might empower others to feel empowered and recognize different doors and different possibilities.
But then again, it’s not that straight forward because the social web is increasingly being optimized for clicks, and it’s proven that you’ll only click what feels relevant to you, so what you’re being exposed to is what's within your horizon and your social reach.
Your bubble might or is already becoming a filter to the “other world,” to the other social class.
What I'm wondering about the most these days is what can we do to architecture the social web in a way that gives everyone the same chances, opens the same possibilities, and gives access to all doors. How do we create a social web where everyone, regardless of their social background, feels entitled to dream big and find the sort of information that matters to them? And how do we make sure that everyone, kids or adults, feel they have the permission and the ability to seek out the right door for them without long and challenging detours? In a digital way. In a philosophical way.
What do you think?
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