Questioning our privilege and dealing with the guilt of it

by Samantha Bacchus McLeod

This pandemic is making us question our privilege, forcing us to face the guilt that comes with it. How do we traverse a pandemic, while showing compassion for ourselves, and others?

There are probably a thousand answers, but I dare not make the assumption that some of us, (or any one of us, for that matter) are dealing with the pandemic in a healthy manner. That would be impossible, because life as we know it is irreparably damaged. No longer can we go along living our “best lives”, dining out, travelling, wearing branded fashion, driving expensive cars, and giving a few dollars to various charities, content in the belief that we are doing our part. Now we have to finally face how tenuous life is for all of us, not just the less fortunate. Was it all make believe? or did we truly believe all was well in the world?

We are all trying our very best to “get through the pandemic”, like it is a passing phase, like this is only happening to us personally. We are all living on the edge of an emotional cliff, not an emotional rollercoaster, but an actual cliff where one harsh judgement – from ourselves, or another – can and will tip us over the edge.

Homelessness and lack of food are things that weigh on my mind, we are all a few paycheques away from the streets, the majority of us anyways. But let’s face the truth here, millions and millions of people are already paychequed out. Unfathomable millions around the world are living in refugee camps under the most abhorrent of conditions. Sick and starving children and parents and grandparents are featured daily in the media. Every country’s government seems to be in shambles, nowhere more than in the country of our neighbours to the south, where people are lashing out in hatred and fear of each other in trump’s America.

Our homeless populations, here in North America, are growing at an exponential rate, whether is is because of loss of jobs, forest fires and other natural disasters, addictions and abuse, and/or the pandemic, our society is in a dire situation. No longer can we think there is hope for everyone. The truth is, only some will win out. The truth is, if we are not all ok, then no one person is ok.

While billionaires look to buying private islands, the upper-middle class look to relocating their investments, and the lower-middle class looks at stockpiling their pantries, the poverty-stricken look to anyone and everyone for some little handout.

Before I can focus on giving real help to others, I have to face my own fears, and my own privilege. But even before that, I have to accept the blaring truth…we are all in the middle of a mental breakdown. We have to strive for help by asking the people in our lives to understand that “I too am having a breakdown so please be kind as I am being kind to you”. One tiny little judgement of another, out of our mouths, can sound like the harshest of abuse to someone.

Are you like me? Every time I shop at Urban Fare for ethically-raised-antibiotic-free, grass-fed-meat, or when I shop for local-organic-milk…I feel such guilt that I can…while others starve. Every time I visit Whole Foods for my organic-fruits-and-vegetables, I feel guilt for two reasons…why me? and why am I making Bezos richer?

Every time I walk past a homeless person begging for change, I feel my privilege like it is a weight upon my soul, drowning me. So in quintessential privileged fashion…I blame the homeless for their plight, I paint them all with one brush…and that adds more weight to my soul. Then someone comes along and asks the question..Where is your compassion? And I have an honest to goodness meltdown, first shame, followed by belligerence followed by incoherence. And then followed by this writing therapy.

I am genuinely trying to face my privilege, deal with the guilt of it, and trying to figure out a way to show my compassion with actual acts of kindness…I dare not be the type that discusses, endlessly, the plights of the world, while doing nothing about it. It is not that I do not CARE, it is I do not know how to FIX it, just yet.

During the lockdown, how many of us gathered our family and close friends into a safe bubble? I did. Finding the time to put together care packages and dropping them off felt so good, it felt like no matter what? if we hold on to each other we can get through this. But that was a few care packages to a few people for a short time. Not good enough. Why not take that mentality, that act of kindness and do it for the less fortunate? This makes me question if I did it for accolades, or because they were genuinely in need? The truth is, I did it because these small acts made me feel useful, and it made them feel special for a moment. I can do this now for strangers living on the streets, whom are really community friends in need. A little bit given out to a lot of people can make all the difference in the world.

Which brings me to another fear I live with…is there going to be a different world for our children, our future?

How many of us are terrified for our children’s future? We look back on our lovely privileged lives, the days long before high-tech and instant-news, when we were blissfully ignorant of every single world disaster, every single lost life. That era was a privilege to live through, but we can no longer live in ignorance, can we? Today, not only do we have to traverse this pandemic and all the horrors that come with it, we have to live with the fear of – what will become of our children. Will there ever be jobs for them, will they have to give up all their hopes and dreams – while paying off that expensive university education – and work in menial jobs far beneath their standards? What was the use of it all? Will they ever be ok, like most of who had a chance to be ok at that age?

This pandemic is making us question our privilege, forcing us to face the guilt that comes with it. How do we traverse a pandemic, while showing compassion for ourselves, and others?

I was a single mom, without a higher education, who fought the daily battle of raising my kid as best as possible, without ever applying for welfare. That was a privilege I had. I worked 3 jobs at at a time, because 3 jobs were available for the taking. It was a struggle but, we made it because we worked our way forward through every obstacle with the eternal hope that, one day it will all be better. Hard work and eternal hope kept us moving forward and upward. Our kids may have the hearts for hard work, but without hope of getting to their rewards, what will keep them striving for a better world?

We have to keep the hope alive, for them. Us privileged ones, have to make room for them, shift over and share our seats, take a little less so they get a little more, believe in them. If there is a will, there is a way, we used to believe that for ourselves. Now, we have to trust in them to make their own futures.

Our kids truly believe they can change the world for a better place, like we used to believe we could, and we did change our individual worlds. Now, it is their turn, and our only job is to create opportunities for them.

In conclusion, I have to be brutally honest about my privilege. I have to act on the compassion I bury under blame of the victims, for fear of facing the truth and thus losing my privileged life. Being privileged is not all or nothing, them or me…and compassion is not only feeling but doing something constructive, like sharing with kindness.

And I have to remember that my daughter is going to be ok because she is ten times stronger and 100 times smarter than I could ever be. This is her world. Time for us to face the truth…this is our children’s world and they will get us to a better place, one day soon…if we just let go, and let them be the change we want to see.

Do something on on this Government website. COVID-19 has and will continue to have – an unprecedented impact on youth mental health. Support systems that were already overtaxed are being pushed beyond their limit. Young people have restricted access to community supports. Some are stuck in homes that are unsafe, while others don’t have a space to call home. Many are navigating unemployment and the financial fallout of the pandemic. We’re working around the clock to make sure young people have the education, resources, and community they need right now in order to look out for their own mental health and that of their peers.

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