The First Parish Blog

The Privilege of Risk-Taking

By , Published on February 9, 2017

Just out of college and pre-Affordable-Care-Act, I took two “gap years” (as they’re now called). First, I worked at a Boston charter school, serving as a full-time tutor for five wonderful high schoolers. I recall my monthly stipend was about $500, and I have conveniently erased from my memory what my co-tutors and I calculated as our hourly rate. Second, I volunteered in India for eight months (between monsoon seasons) to support the construction and opening of a locally-Unitarian-run orphanage in the Meghalaya. In that year, only my expenses were paid; with the help of an international-partnership-minded member of my home congregation in Virginia, we raised money for me to go and live in northeast India, but not to be paid to do so. One of my parents’ major financial contributions to the A. Margaret Barr Children’s Village project was to cover my “disaster health insurance,” which, if I recall correctly, had a $2,500 deductible.

Looking back on those years now, I know I would not have taken the risks I did had I not carried certain privileges with me. If my parents hadn’t been able to pay my college tuition and I had been saddled with tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, I would not have lived for two years without a proper salary. If members of my family (or I myself) were not of healthy body and mind, I would not have lived so far afield from northern Virginia. If there hadn’t already been a long history of successful partnership between Americans Unitarian Universalists and Indian Unitarians, I would not have had a safe opportunity to live abroad and meet scores of amazing children and adults in the Khasi Hills.

And, these risky opportunities then launched me into further privileges. I was admitted into three highly-regarded seminaries, and was offered full tuition scholarships to two of them; fortunately, my future spouse was admitted to one of those divinity schools, too! I have been funded twice more to visit northeast India by the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council, and I was honored with a place on the organization’s Board. I made deep, abiding, and life-sustaining friendships with my students and co-tutors in Boston and with my neighbors and co-founders in Meghalaya, across national, racial, economic, and religious lines. The risks I was able to take after college offered me a better life overall.

I hadn’t thought much about privileges when growing up. I had learned about oppression in history class, but didn’t recognize the logical truth that every oppression has a corresponding privilege: if there is classism, then wealthier people must have economic privilege; if there is sexism, then men must have male privilege; if there is racism, then white people must have white privilege; if there is heterosexism, then straight people must have heterosexual privilege… And so on. Now that I know I carry with me many privileges, I am committed to two actions: one is to stay open and honest with myself and others about the opportunities I was afforded simply because of to whom and where I was born and the communities I grew up in; and, two is to leverage my privilege for the benefit of the vulnerable and oppressed, by continuing to take personal risks (which others may not be able to) to build a beloved global community. My privileges were unearned, and I am committed to extending those privileges to be blessings for others.


2 responses to “The Privilege of Risk-Taking”

  1. Jeanne Gerber says:

    Thanks for sharing your insights that we can all learn from. Peace and love.

    Jeanne Gerber

  2. Ed Lane says:

    Good blog! Enjoyed your summary of the things you have experienced. The concluding paragraph linking privilege and oppression—”the logical truth that every oppression has a corresponding privilege”—summed it up beautifully and gave me a new perspective on my experiences as a social activist—Selma, the Pentagon Papers, building Habitat houses in Africa, etc.

    Ed Lane