Last week I decided to take a short break from the news.

I stopped listening to daily news podcasts, stopped reading daily news emails, and stopped watching the nightly news. I scrolled past political stories in my social media feeds refusing to take the bait, opting instead to linger on travel pictures and cat videos.

I needed a breather. My brain and my heart begged for some relief, and so I made a bit of space for quiet. It wasn’t always easy to stay away, but it was necessary.

It was a privilege.

Activating My Privilege For Good

I am among the fortunate few who are privileged enough to take a break like that. I can step away from the news cycle for self-care.

My husband and I are white, healthy, employed, and insured. We carry U.S. passports and were born into middle-class families, who, though far from perfect, provided us with educations and connections we have benefited from throughout our lives. We each make a (more than) fair and livable wage and our apartment is in a relatively safe neighborhood.

I want to use the unearned advantages I have to make the world a better place.

I have the luxury to turn off the news, tune out the political and social unrest, and continue with my day-to-day life as if it doesn’t exist. I can put the discord in the background of my mind, and go on with my daily life, almost unaffected.

Sometimes it’s tempting to do that indefinitely.

Thankfully, I have friends and family who don’t let me. They are informed, passionate, and vocal. They are helping me better understand my privilege and activate it for good. These are a few of the things they are encouraging me to do and few things that I’m trying to avoid.

What I’m Trying to Do With My Privilege

Listen: Earlier this week, I saw a post on Facebook that seemed to be encouraging women to vote. I want folks to vote, so I gave it a “like” and moved on with my life. A few days later, a friend of mine shared a reaction to that same post that surprised me. Her response wasn’t something I’d even considered when I hit “like.” So, I listened and learned and fought the temptation to get defensive (see below).

Contribute: Lately, when I’m feeling frustrated about an issue or disappointed by a news story, I stop what I’m doing and donate to an organization that is fighting for good. Making a small donation focusses my attention on the solution instead of the problem. It is a small way I contribute.

Speak up: Some of my friends leverage their privilege by being vocal on social media. Some march or protest to make their voices heard. While I applaud both of those ways of speaking up, they aren’t my preferred methods. I continue to have conversations that seek common ground with people I know and people I love. I call out friends and family when things they say are offensive. And I vote – you should too.

What I’m Trying Not to Do Because of My Privilege

Get defensive: Sometimes my words and actions offend others. Often I don’t intend to be offensive, so it hurts when my wounding words or actions are pointed out to me. It’s painful to be told to “check your privilege.” In the moment, my ego gets bruised. I become aware that my understanding/my perspective is limited. That’s humbling and uncomfortable, and it’s easy to feel defensive. It’s easy to make excuses or discount the person who is pointing out my mistake. In those moments, it’s easy to fight back, but it isn’t helpful to fight back. I’ve found these are the moments when it’s most important for me to LISTEN (see above) and learn.

Feel guilty: In moments when my privilege becomes glaringly apparent to me, I start to feel guilty about how fortunate I am. I read tragic stories about people in the US and around the world, in dire situations. I hear friends’ stories about struggles they are facing and I wonder “why them?” But, spending time feeling guilty isn’t productive for me. Instead, I attempt to let my sympathy and empathy propel me toward action. Sometimes that action means I CONTRIBUTE (see above).

Check out: Last week’s news hiatus was temporary. No matter how difficult it is to stay engaged, I feel compelled to do it. Growing up, I remember being taught that it’s often impolite to talk about politics or religion. I wonder if that line of thinking laid the groundwork for our current inability to speak respectfully about our political and religious differences. I don’t have kids, but if I did, I’d teach them it’s impolite not to discuss politics and religion. It’s only through conversation that we begin to understand differences and find common ground. Now more than ever we must fight the urge to check out and instead SPEAK UP (see above).

I want to use the unearned advantages I have for good. Admittedly, that isn’t always what comes naturally. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable and unsure and scared. Sometimes I mess up and have to learn how to do better the next time. It’s in those moments that I’m most thankful for the wise friends and family who encourage me. It’s a privilege to follow their good examples.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
It's only when we recognize our privilege that we're in a position to activate it for good in the community. It's time to use privilege to better the world.