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Use your privilege

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One amusing part of blogging is that people are constantly reacting to things you said years ago. The medium requires you to leave a trail of opinions that don’t change as you change. Visitors stumble across different spots on this trail and react in their own way. Some people like what they find and they follow the trail back to its source, which in this case is a 33 year old white man sitting on a rock eating a banana. Others don’t like what they find and move on, but many people tell you what they think of you first.

There are two interesting consequences of leaving several years’ worth of opinions pointing to your name and face. One, you end up having misgivings about almost everything you’ve ever written — because no one thing you say quite represents you — and two, people expect you to defend every point you’ve ever made, as if you are delivering it live.

As it does on a fairly regular basis, my “Designed Lifestyle” article caught fire last week, when it appeared on a big blog. Many of you are probably reading this post only because you followed the trail from that particular three-year-old breadcrumb. Welcome.

I have misgivings about 95% of my articles and the Designed Lifestyle piece is one of them. It’s a bit glib in places , and it implies a simpler and more conspiratorial relationship between workweek culture and big business than is probably there. The gist is true, though: consumer-product companies certainly want you to be unambitious outside of work, accustomed to paying for convenience, gratification, and other unnecessaries — and that the forty-plus-hour workweek is the greatest perpetuator of this unhealthy norm. Very-high-level marketing does exist, and it works.

I do understand the criticisms, and agree with many of them. But if you skim through the 500 opinions in the comment section, there’s one recurring criticism that I think is out to lunch: that the whole thing is the limited perspective of a privileged white boy, who is complaining about the evils of being employed when he should shut up and be happy that he has a job at all.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m privileged and always have been. Having a supportive family and a fully-able body are immeasurable blessings I did nothing to deserve. Being born in Canada alone is a tremendous privilege.

Having a job at a time when others don’t could also be viewed as a discrete privilege on its own, but I think that’s a little shortsighted. The incredible rights and personal freedoms that allowed me to work at my then-new job (or not work there) are far greater privileges, which afford a person far greater possibilities than any particular job could provide. By becoming a complacent collaborator in a system that limits the growth of both my species and myself, I am taking my greatest privileges for granted.

In other words, I’ve always felt that achieving a “decent life” by everyday consumer standards is a pitiful use of the incredible privileges available to a healthy, self-directed person living in the incredible age we live in. Staying employed by a big company whose aims are irrelevant (or just as often, completely perpendicular) to your own values for forty years and retiring to a house on the coast is the epitome of taking one’s Western privilege for granted. I don’t begrudge anyone’s choice to do that, but they are almost certainly leaving most of their gifts on the table. 

Imagine, for a moment, that the internet-using class of the Western world is, right now, experiencing the peak of human civilization — that there will never be more opportunity, for the typical citizen, for making a great life than there currently is. The typical Westerner has never been more privileged, never had such a well-paved path to personal greatness and fulfillment. And imagine that during an era of incredible technology and possibility, most of these privileged people continued to overspend, underachieve, complain, and fill their time with minimal-return activities like watching reality television. If I’m mistaken, and what looks like widespread complacency is actually widespread happiness and fulfillment, then I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. Disregard this post and enjoy the day.

But those of you still reading may recognize that this scenario could easily be true; we may realize in 30 years that it will never again be as good as it was in 2013. There is absolutely no reason to believe that your privileges, no matter what they are or how they compare to those of others, will continue to increase indefinitely. Yet often people talk about “the state of the world today” as if these are the dark times. Every generation’s pessimists believe they’re living in dark times. They buy what network news sells: despair. This is Bob Dylan’s famous highway of diamonds with nobody on it. Right now.

Imagine arranging the lives of every person who has ever lived, in order of how much opportunity they had in their time, to do the kind of work they wanted to do and live the kind of life they wanted to live. Where do you think you fit? It’s extremely unlikely that you aren’t near the very top. Argue with that at your peril.

From my angle, it’s an incredible time to be alive. It’s never been easier to learn to do anything you want to do, for free. If you’re reading this page you have access to that power. Depending (slightly) on where you live, it has probably never been safer to say what you want to say, to find an audience for your ideas, to start your own business, to wear what you want, to go where you want and to love who you want.

It is possible you’re experiencing a set of political or social circumstances that truly limit you. I know there are readers everywhere, including countries with political violence and theocratic oppression. But the vast majority of you are sitting on a mountain of untapped privilege.

Use your privilege. For the sake of those who never had it, or even just for the times in your life when you had much less, make use of the insane powers afforded by widespread literacy, high levels of personal freedom, and access to the most empowering of human innovations: the Internet.

If this year were the peak of civilization, and in a few decades people looked back on the era we’re in as The Golden Age, the younger generation would view many of us the way we view lottery winners who end up broke. They would find it hard to believe you were waiting for a better time.


Photo by David Cain


Garrett October 27, 2013 at 11:19 pm

From one of your first articles: “Whenever I feel a pang of regret for something I’ve said, I remember that all I did was speak what I thought at the time in hard words, even if today I speak different ones. It’s only human.”

While I don’t agree with everything you’ve written (and think you sometimes overreact to disagreement), I appreciate your blog and feel that you express wisdom beyond your years. One of your articles from several years ago that I’ve found especially helpful, as one of those leftists who far too often gets angry and depressed at the so-called “state of the world” (I’m getting better slowly but surely) is “Forget World Peace.”

Anyway, I agree. Use your privilege. Or overprivilege, as Tim Wise would say.

Yitzhak October 28, 2013 at 3:54 am

‘In other words, I’ve always felt that achieving a “decent life” by everyday consumer standards is a pitiful use of the incredible privileges available to a healthy, self-directed person living in the incredible age we live in.’


Ragnar October 28, 2013 at 4:07 am

I have been thinking a LOT about my privilege ever since I was maybe 12 years old. For the longest time I just sat silent and did nothing and waned away in a cloud of futility and misery. To help people like me start taking action I am creating a project called month to make a difference… as I start to try to make small differences in my life and the world around me.

Thanks for this lovely piece of extra motivation David!

Maia October 28, 2013 at 5:22 am

Hi David, you are right we are very privileged in the West. Sometimes though it seems that there is so much privilege we don’t know what to do with it. There are so many choices, and you are always thinking, what should I be doing at this moment? What is my purpose? I could be doing anything right now with the privileges I have, which one should I choose. That is a question that troubled me quite a bit, until I realized that sometimes that idea is a big burden. Why do you need a purpose? Isn’t just being happy with the way you are enough?

David Cain October 29, 2013 at 9:38 am

Too many choices is a problem, yes, and two things have helped me fend off option-paralysis. The first one is having less stuff altogether. Fewer items in the fridge, fewer toys, fewer items of clothing. There are a ton of benefits to that but one of them is less agonizing over decisions.

Having a purpose is the other thing. It’s easy to know whether you’re spending your time well if you’re spending it on the thing that’s most important to you. If you can be happy without one, then great, but I think most people would find life clearer and easier with a clear purpose.

Maia October 29, 2013 at 10:52 am

I saw this talk recently from Mooji about if you need to have a purpose. He says that finding the true self within you (similar to the Buddhist idea) should be enough of a purpose. I really find his approach liberating. Check it out if you have time http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJZOyGOmuwE

Dragos October 28, 2013 at 5:27 am


David Cain October 29, 2013 at 9:40 am

Oh I agree

Teresa October 28, 2013 at 5:31 am

Privilege and properiety are just another form of slavery….come on, you know better than that. Nice idea though to build a post just to get a plug in there for your buddies at Think Traffic.

David Cain October 29, 2013 at 10:14 am

Wow are you cynical. You are probably wasting your time here.

Randy November 10, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Well said, David

Glynis Jolly October 28, 2013 at 6:21 am

I hadn’t come across your blog yet when you had published Designed Lifestyle so I didn’t really know the points that you made back then. Will I read it? I hope to. I hope I follow my intention to backtrack through your blog, but don’t hold your breath. I’m a subscriber now and I hope you’re happy with that.

I happen to agree with you as a whole about our privileges, although I do believe we’re on the downside of our civilization. Yes, we have more opportunities than ever, but our morality is dwindling fast. I’ve heard that history repeats itself. This is something I adhere to because, from what I have observed, we do seem to be repeating the last prosperous days of the Roman Empire.

Nitya October 28, 2013 at 11:43 pm

If you think we’re in the downside of our civilisation ( I presume you mean in the west), I think you should read “The Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker. You can go on a journey with him to a foreign country….the past…and see whether you would readily swap places with any golden eras you may encounter.
Morality on the decline? I think not. Take a peek, and I’ll wager that after 20 pages you’ll be reassessing your ideas.

Darky October 29, 2013 at 9:06 am

Caution “The Better Angels of Our Nature” has quite a few mistakes and inaccuracies. It is not Pinkers best Work. It still makes some good points thought.

As always use your own Brain as well!

Garrett October 29, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Pinker may have a point when it comes to one-on-one or small group violence (and life is certainly easier in many ways than it used to be for a lot of people), but state-sanctioned violence is greater than ever–and is harming more people (and other species) than ever before, though maybe not as a percentage of the population.

I don’t know about “downside of our civilization,” but complex societies do collapse (check out Joseph Tainter’s work on the subject). And basing an economy on a finite, peaking resource is terribly problematic.

David Cain October 29, 2013 at 10:16 am

I just don’t buy the “morality is on the decline” argument. I think obedience to religious authority is on the decline, which many people think is the same thing. Morality is self-directed or it is not morality at all.

Nitya October 29, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Thank you! I’m so pleased to see that you don’t buy the hysterical rhetoric being spewed out from the airwaves. It doesn’t take very close inspection to see that the lot of ordinary people has improved beyond measure. Let me mention a few things in our fairly recent past; workhouses, capital punishment (with the victims sometimes being children), slavery, child labour….I could go on and on. We’re the perpetrators of these crimes of higher moral calibre than we are? I think not!

Rachel October 28, 2013 at 6:30 am

Well said.

BrownVagabonder October 28, 2013 at 7:21 am

I have had the same issue with people who have bashed some of my writing, because it contradicts others or is a little bit different from others. At first, I was a little hurt by the criticism, but obviously this is something you have to get used to when you write. Now when I write, I am extremely careful to curate my writing when I know I am writing something that disagrees with something I have written before. Like you said, we are all just imperfect humans. This kind of stuff happens, it is the way of life and of writing for years and years. You grow, mature, and change.

John October 28, 2013 at 8:43 am

I think it’s important to discern what is a truly important privilege and what is an advertised one, as you mentioned. I’m reading a book right now called “Shiny Objects.” Interesting read so far if you’re looking for another book to add to your list of retirement reading!

Elanor October 28, 2013 at 9:21 am

David, I found my way to your blog from Mr. Money Mustache, whom I also discovered only recently. It takes a lot of courage to put thoughts out into cyberspace where anybody just looking for a fight (and there seem to be a lot of those) can read your musings, be they current or from years past. What often puzzles me is the tendency to criticize a blogger, a musician, a book author, etc for what they are NOT. Who can be all things to all people? And why would anyone even try? Similarly, why should any writer be expected to apologize for their background or viewpoint?

DJ October 28, 2013 at 9:44 am

THANK YOU for the reminder that life is a privilege and that when you add it all up, the majority of us are VERY fortunate to have the lives we have. I hate being bombarded all the time about how terrible times we are living in in America and it was refreshing to read your post this morning. I am thankful this morning!

Nickolas October 28, 2013 at 10:21 am

Carpe Diem

Steph in Berkeley October 28, 2013 at 10:29 am

fabulous article. well said. and i feel for your predicament, as it could increase over time, given there will be more time and material available. maybe you could make a disclaimer of sorts easily viewable on all or older posts (say 6mos+) that essentially says something along the lines of if they disagree perhaps you do too by now, but you’d rather not debate your old articles…i suppose you could close comments, too, if you haven’t already…i’m kind of curious as to whether this has made you develop or consider a plan for now and going forward. in any case, don’t let it bend you.

David Cain October 29, 2013 at 9:46 am

I don’t really worry about it, I just make sure not to follow the impulse to defend a particular point just because it’s mine. Most debates on the internet are just huge time wasters. I did want to make a point about our skewed idea of privilege though, and the criticism of my old article was the perfect starting point.

Andre October 28, 2013 at 10:45 am

In some ways, our access to a more privileged life is likely to grow: the stimuli derived from an ongoing explosion in information access, and ways available – but not necessarily used – to express ourselves. Much else has steadily (and stealthily) regressed: our relationships to food, to earth, to one-on-one communication, to democratic expression (your opinion means less-and-less in a branded existence). But this is only apparent when you view things beyond a few generations. And all of it is subject to us not destroying ourselves and other large living forms (the idea that ‘destroying’ the planet would destroy all life is a very human-centric view which bacteria would probably be able, figuratively, to laugh at). As much as new horizons open up, old ones close. It is difficult to just walk where you want, surrounded by trees and wildlife. But it has been possible to see more of an increasingly urbanised world (although that space is probably shrinking right now, and the cultures associated with a larger world have become more homogenised and more stripped of variation). In centuries past it was dangerous to wander between villages in Britain; it is becoming dangerous – for some – to wander around say, northern Nigeria or Mali; or between different parts of large Brazilian cities. It’s all relative, and each era brings its opportunities and constraints; and humans respond primarily with blind obedience to their perceived place, and indifference to their (relative) privilege. It is restlessness and otherness that drives renewal, which is not necessarily progress, and rarely more than a minority concern. Privileged we are – up to a point. There is little privilege in a time-boxed daily rush to death. Just an inability to see the wonder that is living.

Edith October 28, 2013 at 11:18 am

We all have the same personal freedom: freedom to choose your attitude and reactions to your circumstances. You probably already know that from “Man’s search for meaning”. I will add that I don’t think people from the so called “developed countries” or “democratic countries” enjoy real political freedom. In fact, I think very few countries do, I could name Iceland, for instance. Also, let’s define privilege: “The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 1 in eight people suffer from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012.” “Developed regions also saw the number of hungry rise, from 13 million in 2004-2006 to 16 million in 2010-2012”. If you ask me, privilege is living in a country, a world, where inequalities are going down, not growing, where nature is gaining ground, not dying. If you ask me (and historians), people living between 1940 and 1970 lived an economical golden age… Why? because they had ideologies. Because Capitalism had competition in the form of Socialism, and the elites knew it was in their best interest to keep some countries happy so that they didn’t go to the “other side”. Nowadays, if you don’t like your Capitalism, you have to put up with it, because there’s no other option, because people like you think we are at the peak of an age of privilege. No social system is perfect, but no monopolic system is ever gonna be good. We need the freedom to create and choose our socio-economic systems and not the freedom to choose between corporate puppets. In conclusion: even if I enjoy many privileges, most of them are not the one’s I’m craving for.

David Cain October 29, 2013 at 10:02 am

I will add that I don’t think people from the so called “developed countries” or “democratic countries” enjoy real political freedom.

If you’re waiting for absolute political freedom, you will never have it. That’s the whole point — if you measure your privilege by its distance from perfection then you will overlook your blessings. I think you would crave many of the privileges you do have right now if you suddenly lost them. Do you really think life was better in the 1950s than it is now? I suppose it depends whose life — women, blacks, gays and leftists, to name a few groups — would probably prefer to make a life now than then.

Nowadays, if you don’t like your Capitalism, you have to put up with it, because there’s no other option, because people like you think we are at the peak of an age of privilege.

The economic ethos an individual lives under isn’t everything, and it sounds as if you are only talking about the United States. Even in the ugly bipartisan environment in today’s US, the individual has more political and economic freedom than probably ever, because of progress on social issues like women’s rights and gay rights, and the incredible small business opportunities afforded by the internet. As ugly as “The System” is in certain places, beneath that system there is greater personal leeway than ever to make the life you want. Again, whenever you argue for your limitations, they become yours to keep.

Trish Scott October 28, 2013 at 1:50 pm

“Use Your Privilege.” That in itself says so much. I’m always amused by those childless couples, who are childless for their own very personal and valid reasons, who say (just because it is what you say to people who have the effrontery to ask why) “What kind of a world is this to bring a child into?” My thoughts always wander to the Middle Ages when I hear that. Face it, it’s always been a mess, this business of being a human on a planet full of humans, non humans, harsh weather conditions, et al, threatening your very life all the time.

Just being here now, though, is the result of a long line of ancestors who lived long enough and were capable enough to procreate and see another of our ancestors through to do the same. Whether or not we are grateful to be here, or consider it any kind of privilege, it was quite a feat of life giving that got us here.

All that said, I do think too many people attach too much meaning to the “meaning and purpose” of life and to “accomplishments”. After a lifetime of seeking I have found a truth. An ant just IS. A tree just IS. I just AM. From that, beyond meeting needs of maintenance, just as any creature must, I may do whatever I like. Of course others are always free to do whatever they like as well. It’s essentially a “free will” planet. No rules or common sense guidelines will ever change that. That annoys the hell out of lots of people.

I do prefer to use all the privilege I’ve been granted to enjoy as much as I am capable of enjoying and perhaps passing a bit of that enjoyment on to others. Whatever we enjoy, we can connect up with others and share that with EVERYONE who cares for the same thing via the internet. What an amazing adventure we are on!

I happen to agree with you, David, that spending most of the day every day for 40 years in a cubicle working on someone else’s dreams and buying into the televised view of value and happiness, isn’t what we are best suited for, but hey. Some like it like that. I didn’t used to think so but yes, some DO like it like that.

Love this post and have tweeted and FB’d it. I may even blog about it a bit at some point :) There is always food for thought here. Thanks.

David Cain October 29, 2013 at 10:09 am

Well said Trish.

I think you are right that ultimately the only purpose we need is to create a fulfilling experience while we’re here. Accomplishments and a self-directed purpose, in my view, are simply tools for doing that. I’ve tried all kinds of approaches and I find I have a better moment-to-moment experience when I’m working on something bigger than myself.

Erwin Cuellar December 18, 2013 at 11:10 pm

I agree that the core meaning of life is simply to live and that everything besides this is just extra. People spend lifetimes chasing “higher” purposes, many times at the expense of forgetting that we are blessed to simply be here alive.

To provide a visual, how silly would it be to see this purpose-driven behavior in animals? The bird outside your window exists solely to be a bird, it doesn’t exist for the higher purpose of let’s say, saving other birds from extinction or starvation. It doesn’t exist to prove that blue birds are better than red birds. It doesn’t exist to be the fastest flying bird. This all sounds silly but we humans do all of this.

Mary Jo October 28, 2013 at 5:25 pm

I’m becoming increasingly aware of how incredible life is here, now. While I’ve lived through some pretty tough personal times, I’ve always had enough food, a good place to live and heat. Plenty of clothes are easy enough to come by – thrift stores/yard sales are great for that. I have access to all the information in the world at (literally) the tips of my fingers. I can talk to my kids face to face where they live, miles from me. Its stunning, really. Living more and more simply – and richly, with beautiful here and now experiences rather than stuff, is also part of what I’m up to these days. I’m with you on this blog post. It has never been more amazing to be alive, where I live in the US.

David Cain October 29, 2013 at 10:13 am

Yes. Procuring the basics of food, clothing and shelter have never been struggles for me, and that is probably the greatest privilege that can be had. Everything else is luxury, and I’m surrounded by it.

Joyce October 29, 2013 at 9:00 am

Hi David! I really appreciate your blog! Congrats for your job, it’s amazing :) Hope you keep succeeding as you are at this moment!

David Cain October 29, 2013 at 10:13 am

Thank you Joyce.

Bryan October 29, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Great read! I’ve always questioned when someone says to be thankful for your privileges. They perceive everything that society values as a privilege without considering that it may actually be doing you more harm than good. For example, being thankful for having running hot water when cold showers actually provide us with health benefits you don’t get for a comfy hot shower. We don’t realize that comfort and luxury usually makes us weak both in both body and mind. The example you gave about working a high paying job in the corporate world is another one. People don’t consider that the negatives could outweigh the positives.

I am in total agreement with you about the internet though. I believe it is a true privilege that we cannot take for granted, especially right now when everything is open and not censored. It’s a shame many of us are abusing this privilege by spending hours looking at porn, facebook, and dumb youtube clips instead of expanding our minds and learning things that will be of use in life.

Cherry October 29, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Yes! Sitting on a mountain of untapped privilege. Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement.

M October 29, 2013 at 5:20 pm

David, Thanks for this. I been teaching a microbiology course (not my strength so I’m prepping a lot) and I was reminded how deadly influenza was to the human population over the centuries. With this in mind, I strolled to my nearest pharmacy and received my free flu shot with deep gratitude.

yayaver October 30, 2013 at 1:14 am

It is true for pessimist that they live on the despair. But they buy what network news sells: ‘happy times’ especially in India. Pessimist in developing countries are those who had given up fight with the system. Otherwise, it would be very difficult to survive without a ray of hope with so much corruption. I always believe that we must use our privilege to help others and gather much experience.

Each moment of life is there to make things better. This can’t be done with good intention only, knowledge must be obtained. Social Reality does not come, like topaz crystals, already made. It is well hidden in camouflage of culture, taboo and class in the maze of daily life. incredible time to be alive.
Both IQ and EQ are required to use our privilege for making world more liberal and tolerant with our small deeds.

Ron Geraci October 30, 2013 at 2:49 am

Hi David,
Reading your writing is a pleasant, interesting, rewarding (in constant micro moments and at the article level) experience. I don’t say this casually as I’ve made my living in magazines and books for a couple decades now and greatly respect how precious and rare a naturally strong and welcoming writing voice is at the level you possess. I’m very glad you’re writing full-time. Very glad. You seem to combine a wonderful mindset of optimism and humility with an ability for observation that’s clear-eyed, disarmingly honest and just counterintuitive enough to be challenging without being esoteric. I hope you use that privilege to the fullest. Please don’t leave any of it on the table.

I agree that the “just be happy you have a job” sentiment is shortsighted. I think it often has a dark subtext: “Stop making me feel bad for living this life I somehow fell into.”

I enjoy your thoughts on having to defend an opinion you wrote years ago. It’s so easy for many people (myself included) to become strident and self-righteousness in “making a case” for whatever it is they’re writing about–often as a device, conscious or not. You don’t much succumb to this dialing up, which takes a lot of restraint and respect for the reader. I think this is another reason your readers regard you with a sense of trust and closeness I see in the comments.

I’ll be a regular reader of your blog and hope more books and whatever else you’d like to create are on your horizon.

Best wishes,

David Cain October 31, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Well thanks Ron, I really appreciate that.

I agree that the “just be happy you have a job” sentiment is shortsighted. I think it often has a dark subtext: “Stop making me feel bad for living this life I somehow fell into.”

I think you’ve nailed it there. Well put.

A regular reader October 30, 2013 at 8:25 am

To think that freedom is a “privilege” — in other words, the possession of a small elite — is a total cop-out. We are all free, no matter where we’re from, of what colour, of what circumstance. We are all free, unless we ourselves agree to have our freedom curtailed.

It’s true, think about it. Even when there’s a real gun pointed at your head, even at that time, you are free. As free when the only thing pointed at your head is the prospect of a slightly toned-down lifestyle.

The only thing some people lack, that MOST people lack, is the realisation, in their guts not their heads, of their own total freedom. And that is why they blame their poverty, parents, employers, spouse, “responsibilities”, government, you name it, for their perceived lack of freedom and their unhappiness.

Sally October 31, 2013 at 7:24 pm

I think the degree of freedom most of us reading this have, far exceeds the freedom of some others and I don’t think it should be underestimated. Give me the freedom I have currently, with all my needs met, an income and my health, over the “freedoms” of say a woman in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, any day.

Drew November 19, 2013 at 8:05 am

I know privilege can be a contentious subject, but I think you underestimate some of the structural disadvantages that exist for certain groups of people in nearly ever country. As a straight white male who grew up in a family with plenty of resources in the United States, my privilege and advantages in life are much more so than many people from my country. This is not to say that there is some evil conspiracy against poor people or minorities, just that I have advantages that other people don’t. These advantages are built into how we operate as people and can go unrecognized very easily.

Again, I find it helpful to use myself as an example because I know how it went for me and projecting it to a larger scale can be problematic. I was able to graduate college relatively unburdened by debt because of the support of my parents. After college I was able to secure a job because I got an internship at a company that my father’s friend worked at. Now I hated this job and quit very quickly, but it gave me a bit of work experience that enabled me to go after jobs I did find rewarding. In addition, throughout my 20’s I was able to take risks in switching careers and traveling because in some part because I knew that I would never really be homeless, even if I completely failed and had to spend a month or two with my parents (which I did end up doing). So now I have an education, a decade of fantastic personal and professional experiences, and I have had the time and energy to spend reading fantastic blogs like David’s, while not having to deal with any of the harassment that a women, LGBT person, or minority might have faced.

This is not to say that anything that help provided to me has been evil in any way, in fact, I would imagine most families would provided the same level of support or more if they could. This is also not to say that I haven’t worked hard, just that I was aided along the way.

Now. Take my story and compare that to someone who grew up in an environment where education was not emphasized, violence was prevalent, and where family connections (which everyone uses) didn’t get you to the same people. They would be different. That is privilege.

Anya October 30, 2013 at 9:15 am

Thank you, David. We as Americans should alway feel grateful for all that we have. I myself am a soon-to-be college dropout because I can’t afford next semester and neither my nor I are employed at the moment. I also don’t have enough time to balance school and work, plus homework. I see this as more of an opputrtunity to take time to do what I really want around my own clock. I want to grow more fluent in Spanish and French on my own time whilst still making money and working on my artistic skills. Again, thanks always for sharing another great post, David.

Nevill Wilder October 30, 2013 at 12:40 pm

I may never meet you in person, so I have to give you a hug and say thank you through this medium instead. *Hug* Thank you.

INL October 30, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Thank you so much for this and the entire blog. I’ve been reading it for a while and this is the first time I comment. I was particularly struck by the idea in the paragraph where you say if “what looks like widespread complacency is actually widespread happiness and fulfillment”…, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately because I realized that complacency and happiness are often confused – and I don’t want to do that in my own life anymore, I want to know which is which and go after the one I want. It is working out pretty well so far. :)

Kevin Cole October 31, 2013 at 8:50 am

I was recently talking with a friend of mine whose the same age as me (20). We were having a bit of a bitch fest because we were struggling with our businesses and lives.

But then somewhere along the conversation we shifted our mindset and I said “We are literally the first generation that can CHOOSE what we want to do with our lives. We have an amazing opportunity that we are capitalizing on every day. We can’t stop now.”

Privilege is here. For 99% of people, there’s no excuse. Solid reminder brother.

Caroline Devitt October 31, 2013 at 10:48 am

Thank you!

Joel October 31, 2013 at 12:52 pm

David’s lifestyle glove may not be one size fits all (he doesn’t claim this) and it’s true that a great many do not have the luxury to give up their unfulfilling jobs (for a host of reasons) to pursue what may seem like a utopian idea; but I’m enjoying his experience and have taken away some bits and pieces which are helping to focus my own view on what is really important for my own journey. Good on you for having a go David.

Darren October 31, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Wow, might be one of you best written articles. I’ve read your blog fairly consistently each week since its start and I’ve always enjoyed how your style and voice has changed over the years – each week suprised at how you can write down yet another amazing way of looking at a subject or issue. I particularly enjoyed in this article how you owned the inconsistencies in your beliefs and yet didn’t try to defend them. We all change and grow, the difference being that most of us have the privilege of not being able to have our verbatim words thrown back at us from years ago. You really put yourself out there, and we are always benefiting – thank you.

Ps. Congrats on new work week, I always hoped you’d become a full time writer.

Gao November 2, 2013 at 8:45 pm

First and foremost, I (and probably will continue) enjoy reading your written thought process(es). It definitely is encouraging and has been a binky in my transition back in the States after, making that leap of faith to walking an untraveled path. Now that I think of it, it’ll be a year that I was first introduced to your blog!!!

Tsk.. tsk.. I’m just now writing a response. :/

Reading this post reminds me of a recent privilege and yet not so privilege feeling moment… In my experience, growing up in the south (States), being a descent of an indigenous group (Hmong, from Laos), there were never really bad stereotypes about being Asian. As a matter of fact, I would joke with my Caucasian friends in high school that if they didn’t get into college.. it was because I applied and got first dibs because of the affirmative action. Yes, being an Asian American hasn’t been so bad (in America). But, that was another story, traveling and volunteering overseas.
CAUTION… CAN OF WORMS BEING OPENED (disclaimer, this does not undermine or deny that this is a social issue!!!)
I was a walking talking taboo of stereotypes, but I was recently rejected from an English teaching program in Korea (because I wasn’t compatible with their program, even though I had my BA, had my teaching certification, traveled and volunteered teaching English for almost a year). Not going to lie, it took me back a bit and it reminded me of a recent debate I had with a colleague on the issue of the ‘minority discrimination’. I have heard various points, arguments and the statement of it being downright ‘a black and white issue’, but reading your post makes me want to share this epiphany (based on my personal experience, observation, conversations with friends/colleagues of other minorities and/or ‘black’ community)… I have learned that understanding/accepting our privilege/stereotype(s) helps us maneuver around, using them in our favor. The feeling of being ‘under-privileged’/discriminated against, poses the question, “where exactly do we want to be recognized, identify and function within??”

A very brief thought. :/



Larry Hochman November 3, 2013 at 2:55 pm

This has Seth Godin and “The Icarus Deception” woven into it. Don’t know if you read that, David, but you are clearly living it.

Privilege is of course a relative term, as evidenced by the number of suicides of affluent but aimless people.

I will be back to read more of your stuff. I enjoyed this a great deal.


Joanne Lee Storlie November 10, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Dear David, Although your splendid thoughts have reached my email box for a couple of years, this is the first time I, a seventy-eight-year-old lover of words and wisdom, have written to you. However, rather than comment about the apparent subject of this essay (privilege), I would speak to the regrets you say you have (first paragraph) about things you’ve written in previous essays. Dear Youth! Ralph Waldo Emerson would take you to task for entertaining such a thought! In his “Essay On Self-Reliance,” Emerson explains, clearly and concisely, that the life of a person can only be truly seen and correctly examined by self and others from a distance of both space and time. Likewise, a SELF-RELIANT person, whom he sees as the ideal, should say and do each day what he feels that day, even though what he says may appear to be contradictory to what he has said and done before. [If a man speaks honestly, without thought or retrospect] “There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacts. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future. If I can be firm enough today to do right and scorn eyes, I must have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now.” Have the courage of your convictions. To thine own self be true.

David Cain November 10, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Wise words Joanne. I love Emerson.

Drew November 19, 2013 at 7:49 am

Privilege is such an important topic. Great post, as per usual. It is one thing to recognize privilege, but I think trying to figure out what to do with it and about it is the really important question. I may have added that with our privilege we have a great opportunity to help others as well, but really we first must truly understand and change ourselves, which you nailed here. Congrats on the career change by the way, best of luck!

Dan November 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Great post, and wide-ranging and nuanced for its brevity. On the prevailing “job is a job…shut-up and be grateful” mentality, I’m reminded of a wonderful long-read from William Morris. It’s a little disheartening that it’s from 1882 (the more things change…), but it’s well-worth the time:

Useful work versus useless toil

“The above title may strike some of my readers as strange. It is assumed by most people nowadays that all work is useful, and by most well-to-do people that all work is desirable. Most people, well-to-do or not, believe that, even when a man is doing work which appears to be useless, he is earning his livelihood by it – he is “employed,” as the phrase goes; and most of those who are well-to-do cheer on the happy worker with congratulations and praises, if he is only “industrious” enough and deprives himself of all pleasure and holidays in the sacred cause of labour. In short, it has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself – a convenient belief to those who live on the labour of others. But as to those on whom they live, I recommend them not to take it on trust, but to look into the matter a little deeper…”
(more at the above link)

Chrissy Tan November 26, 2013 at 7:03 am

The wealthy ones are economically privileged.

Alex December 10, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Dude you are my new favorite hero! I am with you 100% on all fronts AND I appreciate your putting this out there. Its a reminder, even to people like me who share your outlook, of what’s important and to keep from letting the mass culture weigh you down with unnecessary, unimportant, and irrelevant desires and concerns. Its important to keep your eye on the big picture of life experience, personal development and hopefully global consciousness development.

Anyway, thanks for this blog and I will certainly keep reading you going forward.

Keep up the interesting topics!


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