Thursday 21 September 2017

The Privilege of Choice

At the beginning of the year 2000, my husband and I were about to embark on an adventure of living overseas for two years. As part of the whole process, we attended a week of training. The course covered cross cultural considerations, culture shock, communication and other skills we may have needed in living in another country. There is one part of this training that I have been reflecting on again the last week.

I think it was Andrew Dutney who spoke to us about risk and choice. The statement made was the more choice we have in life, the greater the risk. I don't think I fully understood what this meant until we came home from our overseas experience. While living in Tonga, grocery shopping was limited. There was one brand of powdered cordial, with two or three flavours to choose from. At our local shop we could only get unsliced loaves of white bread. There was no wholemeal, multigrain, soy and linseed, toast slice or sandwich slice. The longest section in the aisles was always the tinned corned beef. This had nothing to do with choice, but everything to do with the demand for the product.

We became quite accustomed to shopping with little choice for the two years we lived there. I will always remember our first day back in Australia. We stopped in Sydney for a few days on our way home. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas. The streets were full of shoppers and we decided to join them. I recall feeling completely overwhelmed by the choice on the shelves. Where would we start? How would we choose? It was all too much. If I chose this brand I risked the fact that I should have chosen any of the other ten in the aisle. Shopping was just one area where the link between choice and risk was evident.

Over the last month I have been very aware of other choices I have, particularly the choice of how I engage with justice issues that are very current in our society. I seem to waver with my energy levels. I would never describe myself as an activist. I certainly shy away from taking the lead on issues and would much prefer to turn up to an event that someone else has organised.

Recently, however, I have had a question running through my head, "If not me, then who?" Should I sit around waiting for someone else to come up with a bright idea, or should I get out of my safe little comfort zone and do something? In some ways there has been no choice. I have felt a compulsion, a responsibility to get involved.

So, what on earth does this have to do with choice and risk? Last week I was invited to be part of another event. I was given a choice. The issue does not directly affect me, even though I am very passionate about it. The person asking gave me an out. Just because I had taken a stand before, didn't mean I had to do it again. This struck me. I had a choice whether to get involved or not. I'll be honest, I was feeling tired and drained at the time and really wasn't keen to help organise another event. I could have said no, but all of a sudden I was very aware of the privilege of choice.

I could choose to be involved or not. Unlike my friends who have no choice but to be involved, who are directly affected, I could decide to bow out. From my place of privilege, I have a choice. But with that choice comes a risk. The risk, in this case, is far greater than simply choosing the wrong product in a shopping aisle. The risk is that my privilege will make me complacent. That I will let the passionate fire be extinguished by my longing for comfort and rest. That in my silence I may as well join the injustices.

There has been a lot of talk about privilege recently - who has it and who does not. It is easy for me to sit back and label those who have more than others, but perhaps the greatest changes for good in this world come when we realise our own privilege in life and make choices to stand beside those who have less.

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