Protected by Privilege

12191856_10153700288167905_1553559778259998956_n[1]If we are privileged then we are protected. Protective factors for mental health include many things, both personal and situational, but one feature stands out: economic security. According to the psychologist Maslow, we have a hierarchy of needs, and for us to be successful and happy then our basic needs must be met, consistently and securely, so to be born into a world of economic security enables all the other protective factors. To be born into such a situation is a privilege that often goes unrecognised by those who have it. You are well fed with good food, you can afford to take part in a wide range of activities, the tools of academic achievement are easily available from a pencil case to a computer. Should you need support you can afford it. Taking part in a wide range of activities builds your cultural capital, you can be confident in social situations because they are a part of your formative experience. You are likely to encounter a variety of supportive adults who have high expectations of who you are and what you will be, you will be held to account. If economic security comes from both of your parents working, you are likely to receive high quality childcare, with children who are in similarly privileged positions. Even if your parents choose a state education for you, it is going to be in one of those ‘good comprehensives’ because your parents can afford the £10,00 extra for houses which fall within that particular catchment area. Indeed, you can afford to choose where to live.

While I acknowledge these are broad generalisations, and money doesn’t buy happiness, it does allow you to be miserable in comfort. But there is a bigger problem, and it is one of attribution. We tend to attribute our success to ourselves and our failures to the situation, but we reverse that when judging others- their success is situational, but their failure is personal. Those with privilege will succeed, and they will attribute their success to their personal qualities, not the privilege of the situation into which they were born. And if they are successful because of their personal qualities, then the failure of others must be due them- they don’t work hard enough, they didn’t take advantage of opportunities etc. And this is why privilege remains a problem. We all have a right to economic security, to those situational factors which protect us from harm, but they are currently unequally distributed. By personalising success, we also personalise failure, and if failure is down to an individual then we don’t need to challenge the system. Leaving the situational variables that contribute to a successful and happy life unacknowledged means they remain a privilege to the lucky, and increasingly few. Extending the privilege to all, then society becomes less divided, people are happier (self-actualised in Maslow’s words) and who doesn’t want equality of opportunity for all? Let’s acknowledge the privilege we have, the contribution it has made to who we are, and so look to the challenges that those without privilege face. Then let’s start the revolution.


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