When asked about my 8 years as a single, self-employed father I reply with a few observations. One: it was truly the worst and the best of times. There were weeks I was unsure how I was going to put enough food on the table. And yet, helping raise two amazing adults (one of whom has just launched a great new site) has been the biggest reward of my life. As hard as those days were, I would do them again in a heartbeat.
The second observation is about the three things that got me through that challenging time: my faith, my privilege and hard work. My faith and how it connects to servant leadership is something I have started to explore here and will continue to do so in future posts. Hard work of course is something we all do. My journey around understanding, accepting and challenging my privilege is one that I have circled back to, feeling otherwise helpless in a seemingly helpless week.
The first time I heard the definition of privilege was in the early 2000’ s during training with the Family & Children Services of Guelph/Wellington team. It was a turning point in my life as my eyes were opened to the idea that treating everyone equally wasn’t enough and that success wasn’t just earned by putting in time and effort. I was shown that systems were designed to prop some of us up and hold others down. I became aware of the personal, social and economic impact that years — centuries — of oppression had on people who didn’t look, dress or love like me. I was told in no uncertain terms that being born who, when and where I was put me at the top of a very real, dangerous and inequitable pyramid.
(Deb Gollnick, thank you for your teaching, patience and push during your time at F&CS. What a gift your guidance and friendship have been. I can’t tell you how important, eye-opening and impactful your anti-oppression training has been to me. You profoundly changed how I think, act and lead. Thank you.)
So what is a white male, born in southern Ontario in the 1970’s, happily married to his beautiful wife Melanie (aka a man with serious privilege) to do during weeks like this? How do I use my privilege to serve all those voices around me. Truth be told, I don’t have f’ning clue. Aside from the lightweight social posts and (hopefully) more meaningful check-in with those who have been impacted this week, I am looking for ways to use this damn privilege as a force of good.
And so I lean into Elsie’s four simple words and what they should mean to me and those I serve. Big picture, I believe in my heart of hearts that our four simple words can be tools to shift the thinking from ‘us vs them’ to ‘we’. Our past and future conversations with CV Harquail continue to refine my thinking about how we need to ensure that serving one another does not feed into systemic barriers of oppression. This exploration is TBC.
More immediate, I need to make sure that I am asking myself how I best serve the needs of black and racialized communities today and tomorrow. Even though I have all this privilege, I feel extremely useless and ineffective at instigating the type of change I know our hearts, community and economy need. While one more blog post won’t change the world, I hope it shares a message with my black colleagues and friends that I see you and want to understand how I can be a better ally. To my white friends and associates I say: we have to do more.
I have seen the future and it is asking – no, demanding – that we live in service of others. It is the only way we will heal ourselves, one another, and our human condition. Not to mention our economy and environment. (Another conversation that is TBC). Today that service for me is the simple (and admittedly safe) action of adding my voice to the Black Lives Matter chorus. Tomorrow and every day that follows it is committing to servant leadership to use my privilege to allow other voices to sing even louder than mine.