I just turned 40. It seems rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things: a global pandemic, mounting civil unrest, and a landscape on fire; but, it's given me a moment to pause and reflect on the past four-decades. And, I can say with complete clarity, I have lived a life of wonderful privilege and fortune. In fact, the juxtaposition of my own experience against the backdrop of 2020 only underscores just how lucky I have been.
And, this being an election year, I have even more reason to think about my own fortune. Because, the truth is, no matter how the election goes, my life will probably remain relatively unchanged:
If we continue to quarantine and lock-down, I will be fine.
If kids have to school from home and need child care, I will be fine.
If gay people are refused service because of who they love, I will be fine.
If transgender people don't feel safe living their truth, I will be fine.
If women are unable to afford or obtain contraceptives, I will be fine.
If women are stripped of control over their own bodies, I will be fine.
If social security programs are cut, I will be fine.
If people lose their healthcare, I will be fine.
If people of color become disenfranchised, I will be fine.
If people seeking asylum are denied refuge, I will be fine.
If birthright citizenship is removed from our constitution, I will be fine.
If families are torn apart and locked in cages, I will be fine.
If minorities are profiled because of their race, I will be fine.
If nationalism is given room to grow, I will be fine.
If corporations don't pay people a living minimum wage, I will be fine.
I will be fine no matter what happens because of sheer luck - because of the family, class, race, and genes that I happen to be born into. I didn't earn any of this. But, I get the benefit of it every day - every time I leave the house.
So, when I vote, I am not voting for me - I am voting so that more people may be able to enjoy the freedom that I enjoy; I am voting so that more people have more rights; I am voting so that more people can feel the love and security and validation that I've felt my entire life.
I vote because "neutrality helps the oppressor", never the oppressed.
My life of privilege doesn't afford me a chance to be flippant with my vote - my life of privilege obligates me to vote for those whose voices may not be heard otherwise.
Neutrality Helps The Oppressor
The phrase, "neutrality helps the oppressor" comes from Elie Wiesel's acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Here is a longer excerpt for said speech:
And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.
Been a long time follower of your blog - you do fantastic work, so thanks. This article, however, is the best of anything you've ever posted. Your self-awareness and candor is appreciated and I thank you for sharing.
I hope others read this, take a firm accounting of where they are and how they're contributing (both as an oppressor and one being oppressed) and look within themselves to make change.
Candice Owens also enlightened my perspective. Many years of my life we were OK, or as you said fine. There were a few seasons we were not fine though. At times I felt like the victim. The point isn't to compare victimhood, but rather to say it is rare people who have not experienced it on some dramatic level. Others have certainly experienced it on a more dramatic level and each of us should be able to understand the pain of those who carry a bigger load.
So, why mention Candice Owens. Well, it is easy for us to misunderstand each other. When we feel like we are not being supported in the way requested that we are not being heard or respected. Candice was clearly a victim during her teen years of racial harassment. Yet, over time her perspective was that though she was a victim in a terrible way in the past that didn't mean she personally was a victim today. It actually helped me let go of some baggage I was carrying around with me from years past.
When I vote, it will be for the change I have seen in society over my lifetime. We are not there yet, but we have been making progress and that should be acknowledged. If we fail to acknowledge progress then we abandon what has been moving things in the right direction. We loose fundamental mindsets that help reduce hope and effective mindsets that are not and have not been neutral.
My question for life is
How will you influence your future today? We all have different opportunities, and yes there still is progress needed, the work is not complete. Yet, opportunity is better today for people than any time I can think of in history. If opportunity to move beyond victimhood is present we should act on it. I don't see others who have more opportunity than myself as a definition of being a victim. I have seen valid examples of people being victims but we need to be real to solve the problems that are real vs the problems that incite mob violence. Cities, and good citizens that are on the right side of progress have become victims in the name of causes that have been hijacked by the few who damage good movements with good causes. Those creating victims today are not looking for progress, and as stated in your post neutrality helps the oppressor not the victim.
Amen. Well said. (I probbly should write more but I'm kinda brain-fried right now. :-) )
Ben! Best blog post ever!!! But there is one little thing I'd like to say. You've said you'll be fine and that is because none would affect you directly. But on the longer run issues affecting others will end up affecting you also... somehow in a passive way. Just because all the affected peolple surround us all, our life. They are not only family members, friends, collegues etc, They are drivers, postmans, nurses, service workers, all people we depend so much on everyhing in life. If they get affected, we'll also be.
100% I am in total agreement. That's one of the things that bothers me the most about some people's mentality - this idea that they aren't part of a larger society. It's like when people say things like, "You can do whatever you want as long as you don't make me pay for it." ... as if they themselves weren't part of a greater-whole that is constantly paying for them to exist. That's how people live - that's what it means to be part of a community.
Ha ha, well thank you kindly :)
Very well said. In some ways, it's the progress that we've already made that makes the current world so frustrating. I've become greedy for more progress more quickly because I know that is something that we are capable of, given how far we've already come!
Thank you very much - I'm touched that this resonated so well.
Long time reader, first time commenter (I think) and I had to comment to say that this was very well said and one of your best posts.
Often, my reaction to politics is, who cares about voting and stuff, regardless of who is in power, nothing is really going to change. But really what I was saying is, none of this stuff will affect ME.
There are people who's life significantly changes based on who is in power and this post is a reminder that when events happen and certain groups are in power, I should look outside myself and be more empathetic to my fellow humans.
I feel like reading this actually made me a better person. Thanks Ben.
Good sir, that is a lovely thing to say - I am touched that this may have affected you in such a positive way! All we can do is baby-step our way to a better society :D