You’re not special.

I usually hate it when older people ridicule my generation by saying we think we’re all “special snowflakes” who can get by in the world without any kind of hard work. Who can afford not to work hard when they’ve got tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off (and that’s after working our asses off for our degrees)? But I digress – I could go on about milenial stereotypes, and I probably will in a future post.

I think all people are special in some way, albeit not in the mocking everybody-gets-a-trophy way, but rather in the positive-thinking good-mental-heatlh we-all-have-value-and-deserve-to-be-happy kind of way. Have I lost you? Are you still with me? Maybe everyone doesn’t deserve a trophy, but everybody deserves a healthy sense of self-worth. Okay, you’re with me. Excellent.

So, if I know you and you’re reading this, you are (statistically speaking) probably either American or German (shout out to my people who aren’t from either of those countries), and while you were privileged to have been born in either of those countries, it’s not an achievement that you won somehow. You didn’t earn it, you feel me? It was just luck of the draw, basically. So it irks me when conversations about immigration come up, and people act like they’re somehow more entitled to certain rights than foreigners are, just because you happened to be born somewhere. Does someone who happened to be born in Syria somehow deserve to live in an environment of chaos and violence, whereas someone born in Germany doesn’t? Does someone who happened to be born in Denmark deserve a free college education, whereas someone who was born in the United States doesn’t?

The more I consider these questions, the more I think that we need to recognize our privilege. Even if we’re not rich, being poor in a wealthy country is still more privileged than being poor in an  impoverished country. Like white privilege or male privilege, this so-called (so-called by me, that is) “birthright privilege” isn’t earned. It’s just luck.

In my first semester of grad school, I was in a class where we had to consider what our needs were as residents of a first-world country, and what people need as residents of a third-world country. This was another one of those classes that presented us with that Maslow’s terrible hierarchy of stupid needs and provided no context as to why this nonsense was relevant. ANYWAY. I made a list of all the things I think people deserve: food, water, shelter, healthcare, access to education and information technology, political freedom, access to recreation and sports, and I may have listed some other things. The list of things I require was exactly the same as the list of things I would suggest are also necessary for a good life in a third-world country, and I expected much the same from my colleagues. These are budding development economists, let’s not forget this. I was shocked at how many people wrote that people in first-world countries need access to education and information technology, whereas people in third-world country should be satisfied with meeting their basic biological needs.

Is this really how we’re going to do things, people? Is this really how we’re gonna roll? We’re better than this, kittens. We’re lucky to have been born in wealthy countries, but that doesn’t make us better than people who weren’t. Right? Right. Let’s all agree on that last part.

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