As I reflect on the Life Review process, I am more and more aware of the embedded cultural narratives that overlay or undergird or personal stories. Often we are not even aware of how our sense of well being is shaped more or less in harmony with or over against the norms expressed in these narratives. Everything from the tabloids we see in the grocery store to the ads on television to the subtly expressed expectations of our peers, telegraph messages about how others “like us” are in the world. Adopting a dominant cultural norm as one’s own can be a comfortable alternative to the self awareness needed to sort through the messages and experiences chosen or thrust upon us that it takes to claim one’s own story. This is not to say that there is not much of value in the cultural narrative. What I wonder is, how do we build into those narratives a greater resilience to the unexpected, the inevitable losses and dramatic turns that life can take?
A pervasive narrative is around privilege. For better and for worse we live in a country and a culture that promotes and reflects privilege at every turn we middle class white folk are being confronted in many ways by the question, “What does it mean to have more than we need?” I wonder how the narratives around that question may be fueling the growing political and cultural divide in America?
Privilege Narrative 1
I have more than I need and I have earned it. I have worked hard and I deserve to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I need to keep working hard so that I can have/do/be more. My sense of well being is attached to my capacity to maintain and/or increase what I have. I am a responsible citizen because I vote/volunteer time/support social justice causes financially with my discretionary time and money that is left over after I have supported my current lifestyle and have added sufficiently to my retirement or rainy day savings. When I see my peers or others who have more – vacations, time off, quality cars or recreational options, I am often envious. I am aware of making excuses for my relative status and of sometimes living beyond my means because I want to appear “better off”.
My family associates with other families like us. We worry together about the future and the ways in which any of us could lose our financial security and our ability to provide for my children’s future. The best way for me to protect what I have is by accumulating more.
Privilege Narrative 2
I have more than I need. I am aware everyday of the opportunities to use my gifts to both meet the needs of something beyond those needs that also provides me with financial resources. I keep working hard because my effectiveness at what I do matters to me and to others. My sense of well being is attached to my realization that, having more than I need always affords the possibility of doing with less. I am a responsible citizen because I arrange my life priorities in such a way that I am able to make a consistent offering of time and financial resources to a cause that I have identified as significant and effective in making substantive social or political change. I save modestly for my own and my family’s future. I have health insurance and have provided for my own funeral expenses. I have raised my children to be self sufficient adults who are not dependent on a substantial inheritance. I am engaged in a faith/neighborhood/ community that includes many generations. I am humbled by the diversity of experience and loss in my community and the many transitions that we celebrate knowing that we live by grace and gratitude.