Wrestling with Guilt Atop a Mountain of Privilege
I have always lived up high. I write from the same place. I cannot help it. High atop a mountain of privilege and advantage, high above a canopy of desperation and struggle. At this height, the clouds can be blinding.
Ah, but to change the world.
This has always been my desire.
In my high school graduation book I was the one, “Most likely too change the world and to die doing it.” Now that is something to live up to. But I wonder if I have. Not the dying part, but the world changing part. In all that I fight for, have I made a difference? Truly changed the world. Most times I answer in the negative. I look at my life, see its inconsistencies, see it’s affluence, everything gets heavy. This thing to live up to, it becomes that which holds me down. A heavy chain of guilt.
My guess, is that many who read this are the same. Those of us who live privileged.
This is my existence. My reality. My mansion on the hill. I eat well. Too well. An over-full belly. Food coma. I shower everyday. Our house has air-conditioning, high-speed internet, soft couches, a new sound-system, shelves of books that I have collected, clean drinking water, clean toilet water, a full fridge. Even now I write on a computer that has likely been put together with slave labour. I speak on a phone of the same. I am privileged. I know greater conditions of comfortability than the kings of old in their mountain-top castles.
And whilst I am thankful for this life, at the same time I feel a deep sense of guilt toward such affluence. It is not that my wife and I live lavishly. We live a simple existence. We strive not for wealth and its appendages. But the reality is that we are wealthy. Extremely wealthy. The richest few percent of the worlds population. Most of the time I find myself bouncing between feeling overwhelmingly blessed and overwhelmingly wretched at such a reality.
The majority of people in my life are also caught here. In the tension. Between life on the mountaintop and the desire to help those in the valleys. Between thanks and shame. Between guilt and seeking to do something about it. Between anger at injustice and days of apathy. Between true intentions and frail actions.
And in the tension we either point a finger at ourselves in guilt, or we seek to place the blame elsewhere…The rich. The upper class. The politicians. The right wing. The Prime minister. Whoever. We point the finger inward and feel like crap. We point the finger outward that we would feel better about ourselves.
Yet surely there is a better way than all this finger pointing. Surely listening to the voice of guilt will benefit neither the world nor myself. So I wonder if a better way is simply to take what I have been given and try with all that I am, my weakness and my strength, in success and failure, to bring love to those around me. To not give-in to my Messiah-complex, when I seek to ‘change the world’ for my own ego, my rescuer self, my trying to prove myself. To begin to look at myself and stumbling rather with grace. With understanding. With some sense of mercy. Indeed, may grace chase the guilt away.
So I may not be able to ‘change the world’, but perhaps to love the world that is at my feet, to do what I can with the life that I have been given, with the small things, to not give in to the incessant pull of the western-dream system around me, to be-friend the lonely, perhaps this is enough.
It is amazing how, in the end, these small things truly do make-up the large things. Small steps and we get somewhere. So this is what I strive to do…and yes, I am still not very good at it. Steps becomes stumbles. Stumbles need a scape-goat. The pointing finger makes his appearance. But there is no where else I’d rather be. Step and stumble. Step and stumble.
I live now in the place that I hope we all do – In the complex and messy tension of change and comfortability, of the accusing finger and a radical grace. And, in this place, I may not ever ‘change the world’, but I am learning that this, that this is ok. I just go about my business anyway. Step and stumble. Step and stumble.
Come stumble with me friends. It is our only way forward.