I simply intend to share my subjective truth and I am open and curious about your subjective truth. Please let me know how you hold the concept of social privilege in the comments section.
In my Nonviolent Communication we want social change only if all parties concerned do it with an energy of joy.
We do not want people to change, if they do things motivated from guilt, fear, obligation or shame.
So, we do not want to forget the second question, as Marshall so concisely put it.
1) What do I want someone to do differently?
2) For what reasons do I want the other person to do as I wish?
So, how about the concept of social privilege?
Some practitioners of nonviolent communication have introduced the concept of “privilege” as a helpful tool to foster more social justice, more equal access to some of the material resources such as housing, job opportunity or personal wealth in general. They see privilege as an “observation” – maybe as a term, that brings together many factual observations about many people. In social sciences such statistics can be used to make statements about certain social groups as a whole. (For example: The average salary of women is X percent less then the salary of men, all other things being equal. – or – Since the second world war white families have been able built wealth 10 times faster than black families in the United States.) So there is “white privilege” and there is “male privilege” – and there is “Northern privilege” or “white color privilege” and many more groups of people could be privileged in comparison to other groups. “Heterosexual privilege” … “Old age privilege”
The idea is perhaps that if we become aware of privilege as the other side of an injustice, we might be more willing to see our power to contribute to change.
I personally feel comparative thinking is an expression of unmet needs. If I say to myself: “I am privileged, because as I person from a white family, I have 8 times more wealth than an average black person.” how would I feel? Guilty, angry, irritated? Grateful, joyous, satisfied? I am not in the USA – but if I were a black person, I can check for myself how relate to the fact that the average US citizen is X times more wealty than the average Russian citizen. How do I relate to that thought?
A very interesting twist on that appears when I look at the idea of “willingness to acknowlege a privilege people benefit from.” Here it gets really uncomfortable.
A) Nobody can observe the willingness of someone else. Willingness is internal in each person. Even if someone says: “I am willing.” I can not experience his or her will directly. It could be untrue.
B) To make statements from outside about the willingness of someone is overstepping a border of privacy. It can lead to a loss of trust, that we are being respected and may lead to escalating disconnection between people. We can see the dynamic between countries and between people.
A quote from the person, that helped make social privilege gain currency, Peggy McIntosh:
Some academics, such as Peggy McIntosh, highlight a pattern where those who benefit from a type of privilege are unwilling to acknowledge it. The argument may follow that such a denial constitutes a further injustice against those who do not benefit from the same form of privilege. (From Wikipedia, article “Social privilege”)
This to me sounds like a demand on privileged people to admit that they benefit from undeserved privilege and, if not acknowledging it, they commit a further injustice compared to others.
A number of violent language elements (jackal) from the teaching of Marshall B. Rosenberg combine in “social privilege” as I see it.
- Comparative thinking – Marshall says: “Never encourage comparative thinking.”
- Deserving – one of the most violent concepts
- Indirect request
- Guilt tripping
Since jackal expression of needs leads to tragic results, social privilege most likely will add to injustice.
Here is what I find on Wikipedia on “social privilege”:
Social privilege is a theory of special advantage or entitlement, used to one’s own benefit and/or to the detriment of others. Privileged groups can be advantaged based on social class, caste, age, height, nationality, disability, ethnic or racial category, gender, gender identity, neurology, sexual orientation, physical attractiveness, and religion. It is generally considered to be a theoretical concept used in a variety of subjects and often linked to social inequality.Privilege is also linked to social and cultural forms of power. It began as an academic concept, but has since been invoked more widely, outside of academia.
This subject is based on the interactions of different forms of privilege within certain situations. Furthermore, it must be understood as the inverse of social inequality, in that it focuses on how power structures in society aid societally privileged people, as opposed to how those structures oppress others.
In the context of the theory, privileged people are considered to be “the norm”, and, as such, gain invisibility and ease in society, with others being cast as inferior variants
This theory has been and is invoked outside of academia and its meaning has changed from its original meaning. It has led to an atmosphere and practice of “cancel culture” where anyone who is found guilty of some lack of awareness about privilege can be called out for it – “Check your privilege” has become a way of shutting up people from certain groups – especially white males – who are at the lowest moral rank in the world, because they have access to the most resources – on “average”. So, in the name of social change, we are now seeing a world of separation, where a black poet can only be translated by a black translator (Germany), because a member of non-black community cannot know what if feels like to be born in a black body and to live in a black body.
I feel sad seeing the avalance of misunderstandings with the orignal teaching of Marshall Rosenberg, who attempted to connect with anyone and especially enemies through needs, through translation of any kind of judgment into needs and awareness of any jugmental concepts.
I see systems as attempts of our human intellect to make sense of the world. I shiver seeing the impact of the Bolchevik revolution, attempting to address some real social injustice under the old “system” of tsarist Russia and establishing a new systems, that cost millions of people to suffer and to die. So any system is a strategy and I would like to understand my needs and observations that combine into this request of a “system” and not fall for the system to be a reality and declare those who do not share those views/strategies to be unwilling and make them wrong for that. The current black lives matter movement comes from an outcry of pain and – at the same time – it is putting oil onto the flames of disconnection by using jackal structures in language and expression of needs. For as long as our fight for social change includes violent means, it keeps the system of right and wrong in place and violence will continue.
Marshall Rosenberg said: “How do we want to create a peaceful world, if we cannot create peace inside of us.” He also said that for us to contribute to social change we need to do a) despair work (work with our intense emotions in the face of overwhelming injustice) and b) learn how to love Hitler (humanize those who oppress us or others, we love).
Never do anything that isn’t play.
The two practices Marshall Rosenberg recommends – work with our own intense emotions and our enemy image thinking – certainly can lead to amazing results. Marshall inspired a multitude of other people to follow him and to carry his energy of love and peace further. That was the result of his own practice of those two steps.
Also buddhist practices of mindful meditation can support us. Hear brother Phap Dung talk about this and brother Phap Luu too. (link soon to come) Social change from an energy of fighting can actually lead to the opposite of the intended results. So, if we take care of ourselves, we take care of the world. We do not need to save the world, we can trust that we will find the place where we can do our work – every step matters. With gratitude and awareness of our interbeing, we will make every step when it is the time for this step.
I would like to hear from you, what helps you to engage in difficult situations and stay connected to a loving and peaceful energy, not to fall into hatred and revengefullness?