Of privilege and the myth of meritocracy

We always hear people say that as long as you work hard, you will be successful. That you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it. But in the wisdom of comic artist Toby Morris, success and quality are not always connected and being successful depends on privilege we may or may not have.

This issue was further highlighted in the video “What is Privilege?” posted on buzzfeed.com which added race, sexuality, and religion as factors affecting the perception of being privileged.

So as much as we don’t want to discount hard work leading to the road to success, with rags to riches stories to support that, there are things beyond our control – family background, discrimination, and life circumstances that somehow take a role in shaping who we are. Meritocracy doesn’t always apply.

This got me thinking and I must admit a jumble of thoughts started playing around in my head.

The rich become richer; the poor poorer; the middle class, stagnant. That’s how this society driven by capitalism and self-interest operates.

We tell young kids that education can get them further, give them more options in life. But a school diploma wouldn’t guarantee employment.

Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” But this kind of genius is not always recognized. Because the sexy, the attractive, the scandalous are usually at the forefront.

In other words, life is unfair.

Is it the fault of the rich and the poor that they were born as they are? No, but for me, what matters is how they deal with that advantage or disadvantage. In a perfect world, the rich remain humble and seek for ways to help the less fortunate. The poor, on the other hand, don’t wallow in their own misfortune but strive to work hard and appreciate every achievement no matter how small they are.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” said Reinhold Niebuhr. I breathe and repeat that to myself.

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