I am a person of privilege.
My family weren’t people of privilege while I was growing up, but I am. I felt this powerfully when I was sitting in the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles listening to the Electric Light Orchestra—something that’s been on my bucket list and Andrea’s, too. She spent half the evening telling anybody who would listen in the rows around us that she was from Birmingham, the same city that Jeff Lynne, the Electric Light Orchestra’s iconic leader, is from. I swear I heard her say to one American who was trying to listen to “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” that they used to have Sunday dinner together.
Privilege brings wonderful opportunity to do great things, even fly to L.A. to check something off a bucket list.
It also brings the opportunity to talk in ways that hurt others. Just because you have the opportunity doesn’t mean you have to take it.
In political conversations, privilege often is a mean word, one that separates groups of people. One person speaks out of a culture of social or economic privilege and another retorts that privilege amounts to self-serving blinders. It’s worth a conversation.
Op-Ed columnist and author David Brooks talks about two sets of virtues—the resume virtues, and the eulogy virtues. The difference is plain. One is what you want people to see in you in the marketplace. The other is what you hope people would say at your funeral. For many of us, there is not much overlap. Brooks goes on to talk about a moral bucket list—the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life. You can read his moral bucket list here, but I’d also like to challenge you to think about your own.
So many of us use what privilege we might have, small or great, to enhance our resume virtues for a better job or a position of power.
The flipside is to ponder how we might use what privilege we might have, small or great, to do good in a struggling world.
Privilege brings choices, the ability to exercise agency in the way we construct our lives, to see movement toward what we’d like our lives to be like. People with less privilege than I’ve experienced—people like my parents—certainly can teach us to be decent human beings whatever our circumstances. My parents, who were never well off, [link to post about painting the doors?] inculcated in me the values of love and compassion. I do my best to carry these traits into situations where I do have some privilege, especially as a leader.
- What choices can we make that will help us find our own capacity for deep love even as leaders?
- What choices matter not so much in how many people we manage or the size of our budget, but in whether we have truly led well?
- What choices are the defining moments that mean not that we’ve simply stopped something but that we created something?
What’s on your moral bucket list for bringing about good in the world we share?