With the Republican National Convention upon us, more and more questions about Mitt Romney and his ability to lead the country enter our nation’s psyche as November 6th quickly approaches. By now, we all know the Romney story: private equity, Bain Capital, super rich, etc. To some, these things make him incapable to lead. To others, his business acumen and intelligence are what this country needs.
To me, however, his background brings up yet another larger issue, one completely unrelated to the presidential race: what duty, as a man of great means, does he have to his country and, furthermore, what responsibility do we all have to our communities after reaching a certain level of success?
What I am looking to examine — and something I believe should be explored more — is how come some of us seem to “make it” while others do not. For those that do “make it,” what responsibilities do we have to reach back to our respective communities?
I want to look at why some are not afforded the same opportunities to succeed that I, and others, have been fortunate enough to take advantage of. I want to challenge all of us to be a little introspective and think about how we got here. I want us to ponder the question, “Why me?”
Was it some rare and unique talent that got me here? Was it that you knew the right people and were able to network your way into a certain social class? Was it because you grew up in a certain zip code and had certain parents? (Sorry, Mitt.) Or was it that little bit of luck mixed with opportunity that got us where we are today?
These are questions that I deliberate over constantly, and ones that I feel we should be asking ourselves more often, especially as Romney’s story of success has become such a hot topic on the campaign trail.
Reflecting on all of the blessings that have come my way in the last quarter century is sometimes overwhelming. It is very humbling to think about the dichotomy between where I have come from and where I am today. There is still so much more that I need to accomplish personally and professionally, but that “why me” question consumes me at times.
Why was I chosen to lead this life? What about some other equally, or more, talented person who would relish the same types of opportunities? Were they not as deserving? I have had countless conversations with peers, students, and family members about life, jobs, careers, and education and I have come to the realization that life is an exercise in the following:
a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.
Privilege is probably the vilest term that one can use today as we look at our country and the growing chasm between the proverbial haves and have-nots, the Romneys and the non-Romneys. (Sorry again, Mitt.) No one in this American meritocracy wants to admit that privilege actually makes a difference, but it is something that has catapulted many, including Mitt Romney, into the upper echelons of our society. We all experience this word a little differently, though, and its meaning is very contextual.
Me, I am extremely superficially privileged: I have gone to some of the best schools in the nation, I am college-educated, and I have had the emotional and financial support of my family. As I shared with the students that I work with (many of whom are low-income, products of the worst poverty that our nation complacently accepts) I have been incredibly privileged in many aspects of my life, something that I am quick to acknowledge has made things in my life a lot easier than for some others, though it has taken me quite some time to fully accept that fact.
But being “privileged” is only half of the story. Equally as important is this:
good fortune; advantage or success, considered as the result of chance.
For those of us that have the power and influence to effect change in this world, we must do so. We must reach back into our communities to lend a helping hand wherever we can. This is the work that makes our country a better place. This is the ultimate burden of success — one that needs to be accepted in order for our country to fully prosper.