Freedom, Privilege and Entitlement
Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, September 20 / 21
I was watching TV the other evening and a commercial for pick-up trucks or SUVs was shown. The voice-over said that it was “freedom” to be able to drive such a vehicle, hitting the open road and driving (rather recklessly) in natural surroundings. Being someone who tends to question commercial or conventional thinking, I thought to myself: Is that what freedom is, or is that privilege?
Freedom, I thought, was not being enslaved. Freedom, I thought, was – as we can in our country – voting in legitimate elections. There’s freedom from hunger, freedom from discrimination. These are freedoms that we haven’t entirely reached in Canada or in our world yet, but we see them as goals. But equating freedom with having a big vehicle?
It’s really a privilege. Those who have the latest model of car, truck, tractor, snowmobile or boat may have earned this privilege through hard work, frugal spending and saving, and wise investment. Or maybe they were born into a wealthy family or won the lottery. As I write this article on the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, I know that traditional thinking is that we have to account for our actions, make our apologies and try to do better.
Entitlement is thinking that you deserve these privileges and don’t need to earn them. It’s also not realizing that many who deserve some privileges in life, don’t get them because they are under-valued and not given the chance to show their true worth.
Themes such as freedom, privilege and entitlement have cropped up locally, nationally and globally over the past eighteen months – through the pandemic to this point, and during our election campaign. These also played out in the United States through the Trump years, and real personal and political freedom has become a life and death issue for people in Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Myanmar, China, Belarus, and many other countries today.
Most people will say that getting vaccinated is a privilege we should all want to take advantage of, for our own health and that of our neighbours. Some people will say that having to get vaccinated infringes on their freedom. The division between the people holding these conflicting views has been drawn more sharply due to the impact of the virus, with deadly and life-altering affects on millions of people, and by the growing lack of civility displayed in recent years throughout Europe and North America.
Many people in the wealthier parts of our society don’t realize how privileged they are, not only in a global context, but even in a local one. Canada and Manitoba have large pockets of real poverty where, often for generations, people have lacked good education, clean water, fulfilling employment, and other necessities. The biased thinking, that those without opportunity have not earned it, is not acceptable.
In the context of the federal election, now drawing to a close, it seems that no party has convinced a majority or plurality of Canadians that it has the plan or the will to bring transformational and sustainable change and solutions to our common challenges.
When I consider the evolution of people’s thinking during my lifetime, not just here but where I have traveled internationally, I feel that humanity has become more individualistic. The dominant thinking, although there are lots of exceptions, is “me first.” In a less aggressive sense, people don’t even stop to consider the broader alternative – what is good for the planet, what is good for humanity, what is good for my country, province, community, and so on. People may be too busy, too stressed, too insecure or too greedy and fearful.
People are entitled when they don’t realize how privileged they are. I think that this blinds us to the problems that have been sneaking up on us, are now on top of us, and could destroy us. Companies, industries, governments and sectors of society ignored or denied climate change and now look what’s happening. Governments, law enforcement, institutions, and classes of people ignored or perpetrated racism, sexism, ageism – and some would say continue to do so. And now we find so many groups in our society at loggerheads.
When you have clear and present dangers facing you, it takes strong resolve, a sense of responsibility, and a calm demeanour to overcome them. COVID, climate change, and historical and current social issues put a huge strain on our social fabric, and things begin to fly apart. To preserve our real freedoms – from social, economic and environmental disaster – we are going to need new ways of thinking and acting, and are going to need to embrace those changes.
Zack Gross is Board Chair of The Marquis Project, a Manitoba-based international development organization.
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