Liberating the Language
Maybe the biggest casualty of the US’s current Culture War is the English language. Perfectly innocent and useful words have been kidnapped in a dark alley, handcuffed, hooded, and thrown into the trunk of a car. Then they have been whisked away to an off-the-map re-training facility, to emerge as grenades and bullets in the violent clash of cultures that we are painfully enduring.
Some of these words have been so removed from their original meaning that they are nothing more than insults, lobbed by the unthinking combatants of two warring armies. (See the once-useful word ‘Evangelical’ and the new kid on the block, ‘Woke’. Today no one calls another person either of these things as a compliment.) So, when we hear one of these buzzwords we are either filled with horror or stirred with pride, depending on your political tribe. One simple word triggers emotion, misunderstanding, judgment, and conflict.
Take the word ‘privilege’, for example. I often use it. When someone thanks me for taking a baptism, funeral, or wedding I often reply, “Thank you, but it was a privilege to be involved.” By that I mean I’m fortunate. Someone has invited me to share an important moment in their lives, and I’m grateful. They haven’t chosen me because they necessarily know me. It’s not because I possess some amazing qualities. No, they have asked me take part because of the job I have – the position I occupy, which (they imagine) comes with wisdom, dignity, and spiritual vitality. (If only they knew.)
It is, indeed, a privilege to be invited into people’s most holy moments. I don’t deserve the invitation. I have no right to be there. There are way more spiritually mature, godly, talented people than I who are not given that privilege. Millions of people around the world are more hard-working, virtuous, and deserving of honor, but they do not get the invitation.
Let me clear. Having privilege does not mean that you received all you have on a silver platter. It does not mean that you have not worked hard, taken risks, been conscientious, and made great decisions. It is recognizing an obvious fact – many people in the world have worked just as hard as I have, taken as many risks as I have, and been as conscientious as I’ve been, but they do not enjoy some of the blessings I possess.
So, let me suggest something. Instead of the word ‘privilege’, try using ‘accident of birth’. Yes, I have worked hard, sacrificed, and shown dedication. However, there are many factors that influence my quality of life that are totally outside my control. I’m a white, educated, British-American, straight man, raised in a settled home – none of which I asked for (except the American bit!) Many people around the world are less privileged through no fault of their own. It’s not a poor work ethic holding them back from a better life. Instead, it’s their circumstances, the place they were born, and other factors that are completely beyond their control.
If privilege is the ‘unearned advantage that a group of people has over another group’, then if you live in the western world, you’re privileged. Need evidence? Well consider this:
- Most people on this planet don’t have free speech. They’re unable to speak their mind or criticize the government. Penalties can include prison time, permanent exile, or physical beatings.
- The minimum wage in America might not be high enough, but it’s much higher than the vast majority of countries. In fact, it’s the 12th highest in the world.
- According to the World Health Organization, in 2020 around 5 million children under the age of 5 years died, mostly from preventable and treatable causes.
- If you grew up in the Western world, you were probably given free access to public education. Data published by UNESCO shows that 264 million children around the world don’t go to school. Also, 759 million adults are illiterate.
- If you have a United States passport, you can travel to 187 countries without a visa. So, you can see family or go on vacation in other parts of the world with relative ease. But for people from most countries, obtaining a visa is a costly and time-consuming process.
- Most Western countries have outstanding human rights records. But, as we all know, this is not the case in every country around the world.
The inevitable outcome of recognizing one’s privilege, sorry, I mean ‘accident of birth’, is humility, and you can’t have a more Christlike attitude than that. So let’s live with gratitude and humbleness.