Tag Archives: privilege

Two-Eyed Seeing: Gift & Privilege

The word gift has a very interesting etymology. I remember being surprised as a child to learn that Gift meant ‘poison’ in German. Turns out it means ‘poison’ in modern Dutch, Danish and Swedish too. The story goes that the proto-Germanic verb geftiz (to give) led to German’s geben (to give), and Gift (poison), the latter coming from dosis (a giving) in Greek (dose in English) being used to describe a portion (potion) of medicine given to a person who is sick. That this supposed medicine came to mean poison perhaps says a lot about how Germanic people felt about foreign medicines being brought in, but anyway.

Fungi - Wikipedia

This dichotomy got me thinking about gifts and how they differ from privileges. The etymology of privilege is from Latin meaning ‘private law’ – it is inherently an individualistic concept. The word privilege sure is thrown around a lot, and I do mean thrown – it often feels like it’s sent to people by throwing a word-spear with a poisonous arrow on the end. I can speak truthfully about painful gifts I’ve received in my life – familial betrayal, sexual violation, maternal abandonment, social rejection – and I can relate to both the English meaning of ‘gift’ and the germanic ‘poison’ meaning. In some parts of our lives we are all called up on to turn shit into fertiliser, to be like bacteria and fungi and allow the natural process of decay to enrich us and create space for rebirth.

The current mainstream social story around ‘privilege’ is to label people with certain perceived privileges from a Western materialist, capitalist, Euro-centric, Judeo-Christian (dare I say white supremecist) worldview, and expect people to be aware of them. From this perspective, I am privileged because I grew up middle class, in the U.S., I have light skin, received high-level formal Western education, have strong English language skills, etc. Yet from my Indigenous East Frisian worldview, this concept is an imposition – the only word that relates to this idea of privilege refers to whose turn it is to go when two people (or wagons) are at a crossroads. And from my Jewish-American worldview, the idea that Jews are accepted as ‘Western’ and ‘white’ is so new it feels incredibly insecure and desperate to consider myself part of that story, and I see many Jews become the neurotic caricatures outsiders expect them to be within a larger Western story. (Woody Allen anybody?)

I find the concept of Two-eyed Seeing by Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall is very useful here. It focuses on seeing the strengths of Western and Indigenous worldviews and making space for multiple perspectives and consciousnesses. (Image from here.)

ACHH | Two-Eyed Seeing

There are different ways that we can practice two-eyed seeing. For example, the Mi’kmaw model sees their cultural worldview and the Western worldview as somewhat overlapping and somewhat distinct, as in this Venn diagram showing room for knowledge-sharing and learning from each other:

twoeyed

Another approach is the Braided Rivers approach that sees Maori and Western knowledges as distinct streams that need to be woven together to create a new system of knowledge based on the strengths of both worldviews.

maoririvers

As Indian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar said:

A degree of alienation from one’s culture, a deep exposure to other worldviews and even a temporary period of living ‘as others’ may indeed be necessary for heightening one’s perceptions about the culture and society one is born into.

poverty

By all means let’s confront our Western privilege, and while we’re at it, let’s reflect on what we privilege in our lives (and what we want to be privileging). For example, I privilege peace and balance. And when I think about the Western material privilege I grew up with, I also think about the imbalances that went along with it – spiritual desolation, mental illness, and physical and emotional pain – and to rebalance and find peace, my healing journey included many years of renouncing material privilege to strengthen other aspects of my being. The imbalance was a gift, to be sure, but a privilege? I’m not sure. I see that distinction as cultural. In closing, I am reminded of this photo from a small town in the Amazon that encapsulates my two-eyed seeing approach to gifts and privileges (translation: The poverty is in your head and not in your pockets…).

 

 

 

Dignity & privilege

One of the basic premises of an Earth Ethos, and of indigenous teachings generally, is an innate worthiness of being. It does not depend on behaviour or social status or species; all beings on Earth are of worth. This is the foundation of dignity, whose root comes from Latin for “to accept, to take.” In the previous post I wrote about how acceptance keeps us in the present moment. And when we’re in the present moment in a state of worthiness, we are strong and we are dignified, even if behaviour of another person is not. Privilege, on the other

dignityquote1

hand, comes from the Latin words for “private” and “law,” indicating an advantage, right or priority over another person, group, or even species. In social justice circles there has been a lot of discussion in recent years of privilege related to race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, age, citizenship, and disability. I know there are real life impacts for many of us because of social privileges, but our focus on these inequities distracts us from the important work of ensuring that we stand in dignity and see others that way regardless of their behaviour or beliefs. It’s our responsibility to remember that regardless of the domination of certain social stories and world views, there is innate dignity in all ways of being. Stories are powerful because we feed them, even if we do so by fighting.

It does not matter if a person has a million dollar home or a high social status job, being in denial and numb to painful feelings is not a privilege, is it disembodiment, disconnection with self, others, and the present moment. It is a disabled and difficult way to navigate the world. I know this because after numerous efforts to ask for help and protect myself from sexual abuse as a child failed, I dissociated, and did not re-member those experiences until my mid-twenties. My life before that was really hard and confusing. It has taken many years and hard work to build a trusting relationship with myself. I have had to let go of and reform numerous unhealthy relationships including my entire family of origin; I have had to ride out decisions based on that denial and numbness and give myself grace in the process; and I have had to dig deep into my psyche to question foundational stories and beliefs that guided me for over 20 years, and replace them with ones that feel and work better. (Image from here. And like skill, you could rank by social privilege as well.)dignity-cartoon.png

Sometimes it feels like we have no choice, because everyone around us is on board; we feel forced to accept global stories like, for instance, capitalism, or countries and borders, or languages we communicate with. These big stories do privilege certain values and world-views. This is Christmas season. How many of us know that Jesus was not born on this day, and that the Catholic Church repurposed indigenous European celebrations for winter solstice over 400 years after Jesus’s death? (Even a Christian site called www.allaboutgod.com knows this. In fact, many of the so-called Christmas traditions have strange histories. It’s okay to celebrate something on another day, like when it’s your birthday on a Tuesday and you have a party the Saturday before, but it’s less powerful than if you celebrated the actual date. It’s the same with solstice. It would be a lot more powerful if we celebrated winter/summer solstice on the actual celestial days instead of the days chosen for Easter/Christmas depending which hemisphere you’re in.Consider connecting with the powerful celestial energy this solstice and doing something to celebrate our planet regardless of what else you celebrate. In the southern hemisphere, Christmas celebrations with fake snowmen, fake pine trees, fake garlands, and sweaty Santas in summer are farcical. (Image from here.)

sandsanta

It is of course possible to be dignified in celebrating Christmas; it is meaningful to many people. It is also important to recognise, whether you celebrate it or not, that in society right now Christmas is privileged, and to consciously decide how you want to behave given that social reality. Most of us get time off of work for Christmas, and some of us have to use our vacation to celebrate days that are meaningful to us which are not socially privileged. If you have not taken the time to reflect on what the elements of the modern Christmas celebration mean to you and whether your participation aligns with your values and world view, I encourage you to. How could I get out of this if I wanted to?you might ask. Everyone buys presents, decorates houses and offices, makes certain foods, plays certain music, and expects me to join in. Didn’t anyone ever ask you as a kid if everyone was jumping off a cliff if you would too when you used that sort of logic? Christmas celebrations started to feel empty to me as my sex abuse memories were integrating. Christmas memories from childhood were joyful because my dad spent time doing creative things with me, not because there was deep meaning in the specific activities. I didn’t know why I was busily making and buying things, as I am not a dignityquote2.jpgmaterialist or a Christian, so I told people close to me I would focus on birthdays and important life events, and I stopped. I don’t want to deprive anyone of the joy of giving, but I don’t want to feel burdened receiving what is intended as a gift, so I told people close to me if they want to give me something, I prefer personal notes, meals, time together, and handmade art. I dislike expectations to behave a certain way on a day that is not especially meaningful to me, so Luke and I take short trips just the two of us over Christmas to enjoy Mother Nature instead. This all make it easier for me to stand in dignity because I am accepting me and not playing a victim by gracefully navigating a situation where my way of being is not socially privileged. Cultivating the discipline to deny ourselves that which brings us pain and suffering helps us stand in dignity and experience more joyful abundance.

From a pagan friend: Happy Holidays meme.jpg