Sense and success-ability
We all love success stories.
There’s the self-made man who built a remarkable business from ground zero. There’s the industrious scholar whose firm hope in education made her the first professional in her family. There are the numerous dreamers who beat the odds in order to move to a place higher than where they used to be, and to become the kind of people better than who they were.
Yes, we all love success stories. We love it even more when these stories sing of protagonists who didn’t seem to have the odds working in their favor.
On the other hand, there are success stories born out of another success story. The type where success is not aspirational, but simply expected—because the life situations of these people have paved the way. These are the kinds of success stories that have recently ignited debate online. When society glossies fawn over these success stories, we seem to draw a line.
Is a person’s success somehow invalidated because it was leveraged by his privilege? Is it fair to say that, despite one person’s hard work, the other person will still go farther because of his or her privilege?
Aubrie Odell of Millennial Politics writes that having privilege indicates that there are more things working in a person’s favor rather than against it. In other words, privilege lessens one’s barriers to certain successes, but does not entirely eliminate them.
To say that privilege alone grants a person a free pass for achievement is looking only at one variable of the equation. But so does the belief that hard work alone does the same thing.
In these comparatively more meritorious days, where we are able to move among classes where once upon a time this was impossible, it is indeed more honorable to attribute to honest effort the reason for one’s personal achievements. This culture of privilege-shaming has made plenty of us averse to the notion that we are in some ways beneficiaries of it.
An online quiz devised by communications company Galewill and funded by the Ford Foundation quantifies the privileges you may have enjoyed and how contributory these were to your successes. Questions on this quiz included factors such as your demographics and your social dynamics.
I looked strangely at my score, somehow surprised at the privileges I have neglected to take note of in light of the barriers I thought I was facing. These days, it seems as if our political and social environments have built plentiful barriers, and navigating through them has not only become tricky, but almost impossible.
It is easy to see why people are quick to dismiss the success stories of those born privileged. But it is wrong to automatically assume that their achievements were simply because of their advantages. In fact, it is better to examine how they did it in light of those advantages. Some people in their class, after all, also end up on the opposite side—made complacent and a failure by all that material prosperity.
It is also easy to see why we adore the self-made person, when in the truest sense there’s really no such thing. The entrepreneur, the scholar and all the dreamers around us had help along the way, even if this did not come from deep pockets or well-connected friends.
The fact that our individual success stories are not purely meritorious, that they are sprinkled with some privileges here and there, highlights all the more the importance of those in the express lane, if you will, fixing the queue so that it will include everybody else.
No person is free of all barriers in life. Sure, not everybody who’s smart can go to Ivy League. Not everybody who’s talented can finance an international grant. Not everybody’s who’s entrepreneurial can capitalize a startup. Not everybody can make it on their own.
But that we can envision and work for a society where those with resources can help fill the gap for those without—that is not only a challenge, but a privilege, too, regardless of our backgrounds.
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