Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Unique Privilege of Meaningful Work

by Miki Kashtan
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? -- Mary Oliver

Appalachian portrait by Stacy Lee Adams
After I wrote my previous post about privilege, I was more attuned to the presence of privilege in my life and around me. It is in the nature of privilege to remain invisible to those who have it, and I wanted to make use of my heightened awareness to expose and explore other forms of privilege. This brought me back to a topic I alluded to in a very early post about despair and never fully explored: the privilege of having work that emerges from passion, from a calling, from a sense of meaning. This is a form of privilege that cuts through social class, though also tends to align with class privilege.

Dreaming and Social Class

I remember years ago being paired up in a support group with a person who was raised in dire poverty in Appalachia. Our task was precisely to connect with dreams that we’ve had for our life, dreams we still wanted to accomplish. When it was my turn, I rattled off my dreams one after the other, and focused my attention on the wistfulness I felt about not seeing a way to fulfill them. When it was the other person’s turn, I encountered for the first time the possibility that anyone would have any challenge to even dream. Until that day, I was entirely unaware of the social privilege of being able to dream. I now know that far fewer people without access to external resources find their way to dreaming, let alone going for the dream. 

I have since learned, when I was in graduate school in particular, how much the schooling that people get in different social classes prepares them for their different presumed future lives. A fellow student was doing an observation study in two preschools, one serving an affluent community, and one serving a low income community. I was struck by the difference in what skills the kids were being taught. The low income preschool emphasized obedience and following rules. The higher income preschool taught the children to think for themselves how to work out situations. In a context of rule following and strict obedience, cultivating dreams is a luxury few can reach. When you add to that the enormous social obstacles that low income people have in terms of pursuing dreams, it’s no wonder that so few manage. How would anyone emerge into meaningful living when they have fewer inner resources to handle the bigger external obstacles?