Paying It Forward With Privilege

You know that feeling you get when you split a cookie with a friend and—even though you tried your best to split it equally—you end up with the larger half? Somehow this always happens with me when I do “splits” with my Mom, and even though I offer her the larger half, she always lets me take it instead. After getting the bigger piece every time, I no longer enjoy the taste, because all I can sense is one feeling: guilt.

As I’ve gotten older, the feeling of guilt has become increasingly apparent in my mind. Sitting through Latin American Politics class learning of the truly atrocious human rights violations, speaking to my roommate about her service in El Salvador through Arrupe, and even just walking through a rougher area of Boston—I am constantly exposed to lives that are highly contrasted with my own.

I had no influence whatsoever in what country or family I was born into. I am beyond fortunate to have had an incredibly loving and supportive family, to have attended prestigious schools, and to have never experienced discrimination or persecution.

Two years into college, I am questioning my future now more than ever. I entered Boston College seeking a degree that would pretty much guarantee a comfortable job after college with a comfortable salary that would enable me to live in a comfortable neighborhood and allow me to keep up my comfortable lifestyle. Sounds selfish, I know. But it seemed to be the most practical mindset.

As I have become increasingly more aware of my privileged upbringing, however, my consciousness yields heavy, heavy guilt, that weighs on my chest, my shoulders, and my mind. This summer, having worked in a small nonprofit back home that serves the abused and neglected children of Dallas county and their Child Protective Services caseworkers, I had an ample amount of time to question my lifestyle, my future, and my role—my sense of responsibility—to others who, powerless to choose the families they were born into, did not have the opportunities that were handed to me.

 


 

But as I’ve begun to talk to professionals in various fields and have learned more about my father’s corporate job, I have realized that this doesn’t necessarily mean that we must devote our entire lives to others. Many occupations, whether directly or indirectly, help other people.


 

The Kevin Spacey movie, Pay it Forward, comes to mind as I think about the way in which each individual in our society ought to treat one another. If you haven’t seen it, I definitely recommend this one. The film captures one selfless act traveling from one person to another, and then another, and another, all because one individual witnessed a good deed and sought to continue the benefit and joy these deeds brought to others.

Assuming we lived in a perfect world and everyone did, in fact, choose to “pay it forward,” I question if it would even be enough. I question this because good deeds only extend so far and for so long. I don’t believe human nature is to be perfectly good all the time, it is human to have flaws—to envy, to be selfish. Now I’m not saying that humans are inherently selfish creatures—in fact, I would like to believe that they are inherently selfless—but I’m just saying that hoping that all would be good, and fair, and kind in the world simply is not practical.

So again, back to square one. After my summer seeing first hand the heinous crimes that a parent could commit against their child and seeing the tireless faces of the CPS caseworkers who would come into our agency each day, I realized that even if I devoted my life to serving others in this way, I don’t think I would truly be happy. I wouldn’t be able to isolate the hardships of others from my own, and I foresee myself getting burned out quickly. This summer experience revealed to me that no matter what I do, however, I definitely would like to incorporate some form of community service into my life.

But even if I joined a board at a foundation, or spent my weekends volunteering at a food bank, I sense that the familiar feeling of guilt would still be present—its weight still felt. BC takes pride in the motto, men and women for others—something I honestly don’t think I would have thought about so deeply had I not come to this school. But as I’ve begun to talk to professionals in various fields and have learned more about my father’s corporate job, I have realized that this doesn’t necessarily mean that we must devote our entire lives to others. Many occupations, whether directly or indirectly, help other people.

I really dislike the reference around campus, “Carroll School of Money,” used to describe CSOM, because it naively assumes that if you’re in the business school, all you want to do is to get really rich. I’m not in CSOM, so I’m not defending my own school, but pursuing business doesn’t definitively equate to pursuing a selfish lifestyle.

I look to my father, an executive at a successful credit card processing company, and have learned of the many, many lives that he has impacted—whether it be through community outreach or employment of thousands of individuals. He did not choose to devote his life to others, but by pursuing what he loved to do, he made others’ lives better—his employees and his family alike.

I think the most important thing we can do is to follow our passions, while making sure that passions do a lot of good for other people. We owe it to ourselves, and to the people who are not afforded these opportunities that we have, to pursue what we love to do. It’s on us to make the most of our fortunate positions.

 

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic