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Privilege, Guilt and Envy

The other day I saw a post of a choir video. There were perhaps 100 kids singing the same song from their homes, stitched together into a video collage that gave many of them solo moments.They were sweet and earnest, and some of them could really sing. I watched the whole video thinking how cool it was and how lovely their voices were.

Then I read the comments below.

“These are 98% white kids.”

“Sounds like they can afford voice lessons.”

Clearly the commenters did not remember that some school choirs will inevitably be made of mostly white kids because the area is mostly white. No one commented how kind he was to spend hours on this project. And it didn’t occur to them that the choir director might have used auto-tune to polish the result of everyone’s efforts.

But Privilege. How dare they?

Envy is the arbiter of privilege. If you have something I wish I had, I can call privilege and lay on the guilt. Never mind if I could have had that thing and didn’t bother. Never mind that you having it doesn’t snatch it from me. It’s just so unfair.

It shocks me how it’s become normal, especially in the last few months, to express resentment at other’s luck. You still have a job? Privilege. Your kids are healthy? Privilege. You have childcare options? Privilege.

As people juggle their family, jobs, and life, they now feel it necessary to apologize for mentioning a housecleaner, childcare, big yard, or school options. Even though these are likely the fruit of hard work and postponing gratification at some point, like the instagram reel, only the highlights show now.

If you stick with your job and save money, you will be privileged. If you manage to arrange music lessons, sports, flashcards for your kids, they are privileged. Isn’t that - progress and learning - what we want? Should I be feeling guilty as I help my kid with school or drive them to sports, or enjoying the time with them?

Ultimately, the question is how to balance appreciation of the good in our lives (which doesn’t last forever, so haters can just watch and wait) with the awareness that others lack those goods. When I enjoy an evening with friends, do I need to worry about the people who aren’t, can’t or don’t have friends? If my kids are healthy, do I tell them about kids with cancer? Would it make sense to spend a date night talking about another couple’s marriage crisis?

Everything we have, even what we worked for, is a gift. The people who showed me good choices likely had people who made good choices for them. Every good decision that another person makes has the potential to make my life better. And still there are no guarantees, and no one takes it with them when their time comes. I’m reminded nearly every day that someone I know is suffering in some way.

Some day my number will be up. In the meantime, can I enjoy the good things in my life and let you enjoy yours? My guilt won’t make your life better, but your decision to walk away from envy will.

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