Check your privilege to keep your privilege in check

Smaranda Boroş, Professor of Cross-Cultural Management, at Vlerick Business School, Belgium, reflects on the current situation.

I am an absolute loner. I admit that most of the time I am enjoying this reclusive period in my life. But as more and more time passes in solitary confinement, I understand better and better why prison is so daunting. Does comparing a spacious, light-filled, comfortable flat with prison sound like the rantings of a drama queen? That’s because it is. As self-pity and frustration become frequent guests in the house of our thoughts, it gets all the more easy to forget that the simple fact of having time and mental energy for them means we don’t have bigger problems.

Research shows that in war-time the rate of depression is much lower than during peace. We don’t have time to be depressed (or sorry for ourselves, or wallow in self-pity) when survival is at stake. And if you are reading this, it means you have a computer, you have internet connection, you have electricity, and you have time to read. In other words, you enjoy a lot of privileges that many hundreds of millions of people don’t have. This is one of the first things we forget: just how privileged we are. The focus on what is missing, what is forbidden, what is just beyond our reach turns a blind eye and a mute heart to the real tragedies occurring out there (somewhere that now feels very far and far removed).

Many are writing these days about practicing gratitude for what we have, showing gratitude for those we are grateful to have in our lives, and using this gratitude to do the next right thing (yes, I am quoting Frozen on a management site). The practice of gratitude has innumerable benefits for our mental and physical health, as well as for building better relations and more humane work systems. So how can we get our heads out of our self-centredness and remember there is a world out there that doesn’t enjoy all the privileges that we do? To help in this process, the Diversity and Inclusion Team of Vlerick Business School (Belgium) created a small challenge (and we not so secretly hope it will go viral, to reach as many people as possible). It is an adaptation of the privilege game (known to everyone who does diversity trainings, and introduced to you below).

Here is your challenge:

·       Step 1: click on this link and check your privilege

·       Step 2: share the link with people in your network

·       Step 3: compare your score with the score of three people you nominated and find out where you stand in relation to others.

The time for reflection is now. Because if any of the economic predictions come true, we are headed for rough waters. The first thing that will happen then is that tribal behaviour, us versus them dynamics, and hoarding of resources (beyond toilet paper) will become the norm, as social identity theory has been reminding us for over half a century. So the time for reflection is now, and now is the time to remember The Other, and now the time to dream up and plan for a future that is not a repetition of the past. A future that has more than ‘me’ in it. A future for ‘us’ (us the people, us the planet).

Because, as James Baldwin so beautifully put it: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed without being faced.”