Checking our Relational Privilege: What it is and Why it Matters

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Your relationships are privilege. Here’s why.

We talk a lot these days about privilege.

About white privilege, or male privilege, or straight privilege. The idea is that certain things beyond our control sometimes gives us an unfair head start in life. Or an unfair disadvantage. I think it’s a vital discussion to have. Not to shame people for being born into relative safety and comfort, but to be aware of the ways in which things outside our control can contribute to our successes and difficulties. So that we can begin to close that gap.

As a straight white woman in a middle-class family, I was born into privilege. That doesn’t mean everything was always peachy-keen (it wasn’t) and that nothing shitty ever happened (it did). It just means that I started with some advantages. As far as I know, nobody has ever judged me for the colour of my skin.

There is another way that I’ve been privileged: Relational Privilege.

A few winters ago there was a propane shortage. The huge tanks that heat our house ran empty for the first time ever and when I called the propane company they told me they were out of propane as well and it would be at least two days before they could deliver more. And you know what? Within 20 minutes of sharing about this on social media we had multiple offers from friends and family willing to take our family of 8 in for the weekend. This is relational privilege.

I have a hundred examples. People who surrounded us with gifts and support as we welcomed each of our children into this world, friends who delivered casseroles and encouragement during seasons of difficulty, a church family that prays for and nurtures us, friends who helped us move and paint, loved ones to fill the house on Christmas day, in-laws that pour life and love into our children, people to share a good cry with at the end of an especially hard week. No matter what life has thrown our way, we have never ever been truly alone in whatever we are going through.

And friends, this isn’t the case for everyone.

Not everyone has somebody to help them move. Or somebody to ask how they are doing. Or somebody to remember how they take their coffee. There are countless people moving through your city and mine right now who don’t have a network of support and love. Whose birthdays go unnoticed. Who crave this relational privilege that we can so easily take for granted.

In my years of serving those living in poverty I have had the honour, on a few occasions, of baking grown adults their first ever birthday cake. We’ve helped people move from one apartment to another, only to discover that their plan before we showed up was to leave behind everything they couldn’t carry. We’ve visited people in hospital after surgery, people who expected to have nobody at all visit them.  Take this in for a minute: there are people in your community who go in for surgery without anyone knowing, without anyone checking in on them or bringing them a basket of fruit.

Relationships are vital to human wellbeing.

Community and healthy relationships go a long way to insulate us from what life throws our way. Surrounded by love, we are still shaken by the broken and difficult world, but those relationships help us climb back to our feet after the quake.  Those relationships protect us from the greatest depths of tragedies outside of us and our own interior hurts.  Relationships matter.

If some tragedy occurred tomorrow, or I made some bad decisions and somehow lost everything I have: my house, my van, my stuff, my credit cards, the 7 bucks in my savings account, if I lost absolutely everything, I wouldn’t have to sleep in the cold tonight. Whether the loss was my fault or somebody else’s or a series of freak accidents, me and my husband and my kids wouldn’t have to find an abandoned building to sleep behind. Not because we’ve done anything right. But because of relational privilege. Because we were born into families and churches and communities that noticed us.

But without those relationships?  My next bad day could be devastating.  This is true for every one of us.  Let us not take this for granted.

We live in an individualistic society.

People are expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, to fix themselves. We are so big on individual responsibility that we sometimes lose sight of the opportunities and advantages afforded to us by the very simple fact that we have had people in our corner cheering for us. We fall for the lie of the self-made man, when in reality nobody achieves their goals in a vacuum, we all need one another. Human beings are interdependent creatures, meant to lift one another up.

As I write this, we are in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic. So many of us are feeling isolated, distant and alone. What better time is there to reach out to someone who may be feeling the weight of this isolation heavier than us?

So friends, can we share our relational privilege with others?

Can we reach out today? To somebody who is travelling through this dark and difficult world alone? And offer them the hand of friendship? Because that hand of friendship is sometimes exactly what we need in order to keep putting one foot in front of another.

 And because everyone deserves to have somebody in their corner.

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