I spend quite a bit of my time feeling immensely guilty, to the point of occasionally keeping me awake at night.
I feel guilty about my privilege. I live in the First World. The World of ease and flow and money and choice. I have access to free medical care (regardless of the wider concerns of what might be happening to that medical care). I have money, and a nice place to live. I have a job, and one that I love. Actually I have two jobs that I love. I’m not alone. I share my life with someone I adore. I have people who give a shit about me, and who would help me if I were in trouble. The idea of starvation is laughably far away. It’s so far away, in fact, that I have the luxury of being able to choose what I want to eat from such a range of foods that would be inconceivable even a hundred years ago. I am not afraid. No-one treats me like shit because of what I believe in, what colour my skin is or where I’m from. I am not in any way disabled. If I want something, I can generally buy it or get access to it (within reason). No-one ever tells me that I can’t think or act the way I want to think and act based on arbitrary and superficial criteria. Well, occasionally people try, but they don’t get very far.
A cornucopia of factors mean I have been born into the best possible start in life. I am one of the privileged few of this planet. Hence the guilt.
There is a pervasive, insidious embarrassment attached to the appearance of giving a shit about people who do not have the same privileges as you, or giving a shit about the planet. Reactions range from being accused of being a hippy – as if being a hippy is somehow shameful or derogatory - to “yes by all means let’s talk about the homeless but for god’s sake don’t acknowledge them on the street or give them money to fund their drug habits.” People think you’re dull when you go on about building schools in Africa. We find charity collectors on the street a fucking nuisance. “Oh god, another crisis?”
And we feel guilty about this feeling. But we still feel it.
We feel guilty and we say that we don’t have time to contribute to society. There’s no time. There’s no money. I’m buying a house. I’m working 12 hours a day. I’ve got my own problems. I pay my taxes. Isn’t that enough?
I’m one of these people. I have felt these things all my life.
Well fuck that. I’m not going to blush and mumble that I’m not a hippy. Call me a hippy. I’m not going to be ashamed that I stop and give tenners to the homeless guys I pass, though I am sorry I don’t do it every time I see one. So WHAT if they go and spend it on alcohol? What’s your point? Do you think they need my judgement as I ceremoniously hand over the tenner?
Yes, I’ll try and shop ethically. I’ll give a rat’s ass who I support financially. Because I can. I have the immense privilege of being able to choose where I spend my money, because I have enough of it to have that choice. So why the fuck would I not? Who else is going to?
Yes, I’m going to go on about the environment, fracking, the way the Tories make me want to cry and fly into a violent rage and often at the same time, politics, activism, do you know where your food actually comes from and what it’s made of, and growing vegetables in pots in my backyard, pollution, recycling, energy sources, and you can include me on all the #middleclass hashtags you like. It’s not going to shame me into stopping. It’s not shameful to attempt to halt the flow of narcissism and selfishness that has become how we unconsciously operate. It’s all about us as the individual. That’s all we see. How pretty are you, how successful are you, have you had children yet, are they like you, how stressed are you, how thin are you, how do you want the world to see you through the clothes you wear, the hairstyle you have, the media you consume. What tribe are you?
The privileged tribe. That’s what tribe I am.
I’m not brave enough yet to drop everything and go to Africa to build a school. I’m not quite where a friend of mine is, who volunteers one night a week for the Samaritans even though it means for one night a week he gets zero sleep and still goes into work the next morning. One day I’ll get there. But I will care enough to change my way of thinking, give money I don’t need to organisations and individuals who do, take a step back when I’m being lazy or selfish and say, “Laure – you’re being lazy slash selfish. Stop it at once.” I'm not eloquent enough to come up with solutions or argue you around to what I'm trying to say. All I'm doing is trying to make sense of things, trying to explore and see a different way. I'm trying to give a shit, not just consume consume consume and then die, like a cockroach. Maybe this is one reason I write.
People think that if you care about this stuff you immediately become a po-faced Machine of Stern Judgemental Face when you find out that they are not concerned about fracking. I’m not going to judge you. I AM you, for God’s sake. I spend more time than on the internet cooing about Game of Thrones or David Lynch or the latest achingly clever meme that made me squeal with laughter than I ever will contributing to the changing of the world. I lose my hours in tv and films and books and music rather than consciously devoting my brain space or time to the betterment of society.
But I’m trying not to.
We should all try not to. We have precious little time on this earth. Shouldn’t we spend at least some of it on something bigger than ourselves?