Integrating Developmental & Systems Thinking into Coaching & Training
Focus on Privilege
Why "People of Privilege" ?
In her 1989 essay, American feminist activist Peggy McIntosh, in confronting her own privileges as a white woman, expressed her belief that:
"For me, white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own."
Conversations about "privilege" are often uncomfortable and divisive, mixing blame/denial and feelings of frustration, shame, and guilt, all while triggering strong accusatory/defensive postures.
My belief is that understanding the nature and influence of privilege in our lives and our society is indeed difficult, but essential to better understanding our own roles and purpose.
In more recent years, we have seen the term privilege evoked increasingly by various social justice movements, as part of a call for accountability in addressing inequality and systemic discrimination.
As a result, many have started to question their own privileges, while others have chosen to avoid the topic, or to ignore/deny/minimize its historical and systemic impact in our lives.
My understanding is that privilege has often been a blind spot in Western understandings of power, identity and culture, and that our society needs to have not only more, but better conversations about it.
Our world needs more courage and accountability from People of Privilege who benefit from the power dynamics they have inherited.
Am I Privileged?
We tend to identify privilege through factors such as financial wealth and social status as they are the most familiar and obvious forms across many cultures and times.
However, privilege can also be understood through other forms: access to healthcare and social services, protected democratic and civil rights, stability and caring capacity of family structures, sheltering/protection from traumatic experiences (direct/intergenerational), neuro-typicalness, physical attributes, emotional resources, geographic, political and economic stability, etc.
By becoming more curious towards the multiple ways in which we are indeed privileged, we can more consciously get in touch with the resources and responsibilities we have and be intentional about how to leverage them to create positive impact.
Why I focus on Privilege
I was born in Montréal in a household of war refugees that survived the labor camps of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Growing up, I was often told how privileged I was not to have experienced the fear, famine and violence that my family lived.
At times, I was told that I needed to appreciate the safety and abundance of life in Canada. At other moments, I learned about how well my family was doing before being displaced by conflict.
Before the civil war (1975-1979), my family was part of the economic elite of Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. My great-grandfather left China at a young age, and managed to build a prosperous career as an entrepreneur, owning retail stores, factories and real estate across the city.
By most means, my family was privileged, though their wealth would not survive the communist revolution.
And yet, privilege isn't only a material matter. Following the 1975 revolution, my family's greatest loss was not their wealth, but their freedom and the lives of several family members.
For a genocide survivor, privilege can mean safety and freedom from the constant threat of arbitrary violence, or having enough food to feed the family for a few more days.
In that sense, my family's journey has spanned across the spectrum of privilege, with their greatest sense of privilege coming from obtaining sponsorship and then refugee status in Canada.
From their struggles, I have inherited both their trauma and resilience. At times in tension, I have learned to see them as superpowers... when held together mindfully with a spirit of gratitude and a sense of responsibility.
So why focus on privilege? Because it reveals our greatest strengths, though often at the cost of revealing our greatest ignorance and vulnerabilities as well.
Such work is never easy, but having gone through it myself, my goal is now to support individuals who have come to realize that there is no better way to grow, than to face the privileges we carry that are not always in check, despite our best intentions.
Achieving a healthy emotional and intellectual relation with privilege, based on both gratitude and accountability, is therefore a core part of how I approach Coaching as well as DEI work.