May 3–The Belonging of Privilege

In yesterday’s blog, I tried to explore the universal need that human beings have for belonging and how, once we belong to a group, we experience the privilege, the birthright of being human.  It is our birthright to belong.

Yet, all do not always belong.  The very thing that can empower us in all of our human giftedness becomes the very thing that we use, knowingly and unknowingly, against others who don’t belong to our group.

Historically, a “privilege” was a law written to favor a particular person or group of people. It could originally also be one written against a person or group of people, but ultimately came to only reflect the positive.

As we delve into the meaning of belonging, what strikes me intensely are the inverse relationships of belonging and privilege.  It is in our very nature to want to belong, and we are only healthiest when belonging is a central part of our experience.  When we do belong, we enjoy that set of experiences as if they were a special  law written just to benefit us.  In fact, it is a kind of law written by the generosity of the hearts and lives of those who take us into their belonging.  Belonging gifts us the privilege of the embrace of our community.  That kind of privilege is grace.

Inversely, once we enjoy the privilege of belonging, the safety of that position may allow us to grow dull and complacent.  Our belonging belongs to us, we think. We take our belonging so for granted that we really don’t think about it at all.  We have always belonged.  If anyone ever suggests that we are enjoying a privilege of belonging, we become offended and act as if we are lone rangers with no connection at all to the others to whom we belong.   Others not only do not belong to our group, but we begin to see them as a problem and threat to the privilege that we deny we have.  Privilege that is ensconced in laws and customs of a society creates walls between those who belong and those who do not.  That kind of belonging creates injustice and violence.

Like all things of spiritual nurture and value, belonging requires a mindfulness in us, a tending.  In fact, experiences of belonging can call us to that renewing practice:  when we are aware that we belong to any group, that belonging and sense of security can allow us to ponder:  by what gifts we came here; through which gestures we invite others here; how belonging belongs to us all.

I am privileged in so many ways.  Not a single one of those ways of privilege comes to me without belonging–someones extended their circle to include me.  Who, now, am I reaching toward for inclusion as well?

Bob Patrick

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