A Penny for Your Privilege

Over the summer, I worked a nanny job that taught me more than I can convey in the scope of this article, but there are some points worth mentioning. For instance, I learned some big important life skills, like how to plan and cook dinners for a family of five, five days a week, two months in a row, without getting boring or burning everything. I also learned less important things, like how to break up violent nerf gun fights by suddenly playing dead. And then I learned decidedly unimportant things, like that the song called “Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing On Rainbows” exists. (Don’t look it up. If you do, I’m sorry. You caused this. I warned you.)

But besides all these simple lessons, I learned something much more profound, an idea I’m still struggling to articulate properly. So here’s my best attempt to explain it. You see, I worked for a family with one of those classic, all-American last names that wasn’t Smith or White but may as well have been. Translation: this family is wealthy. And by wealthy, I don’t mean gaudy or ostentatious; they just live comfortably. But much more so than I’d ever seen before up close. At first, when I met the parents, I thought, “Wow, these are people who’ve made it.” But as the summer went on, I realized that their money and last name just don’t capture the full picture. Here’s what I mean.

As it turns out, you can have all the money in the world, enough to hire a private piano tutor to come to your house weekly, enough to pay the nanny to sit with your kids and practice piano for hours, and you can still not know that your daughter has recently learned her first song with left-hand chords. You can have enough money to buy your son three nerf guns at once and all the necessary ammo too, but you can still totally miss the fact that all he really wants is a hamster. You can have enough money to buy the kids ice cream and not hear that what they’ve been asking for is hot chocolate. And to me, that’s not what it looks like to have “made it.” As this family’s nanny, I saw all these missed moments. And they made me kind of sad.

But at the same time, I think there’s a beautiful lesson I can take from what I saw. It’s a lesson that I think relates to privilege, one of those hot-button issues of our time. We talk a lot on social media and with our friends about capital-P Privilege, the kind that skews the system in favor of or against large groups of people, that kind that—when abused—contributes to injustice and discrimination. And capital-P Privilege needs to remain part of our societal dialogue. This I will not argue. But I would suggest that we should also not forget a second kind of privilege, a kind that’s much more personal. It’s the privilege we all have of loving and being loved.

In this sense, privilege is kind of synonymous with being honored, as in, I’m privileged to have a family who loves me, or I’m honored to have friends who trust me to love them. And this kind of privilege isn’t tied to money or socioeconomic status at all. It’s equally attainable for all of us. How many of us exercise the rights that come with this privilege on a daily basis? Ask yourself, and think about it. Do you listen as closely as you should? Do you care as much as you ought? Do you love as fiercely as you could? Well, why the hell not?

We’re working our butts off in GE lectures, O-Chem labs, and whatever other torture UC San Diego decides to throw our way for a financial future of stability, but there’s so much more we should be striving toward. We’re attending rallies and protesting and writing eloquent posts about equity and Privilege, but we can’t forget that Privilege isn’t everything. Financial success or Privilege is not going to be enough on its own if we don’t remember that it’s also a privilege, truly and honestly, to have loved ones in our lives. We shouldn’t ignore that. Or them.
So though I’ve walked away from this summer job with greatly improved cooking skills, innovative problem-solving strategies, and a slightly marred catalogue of songs in my head, I can’t walk away from my biggest lesson learned. Money just isn’t everything. It’s not all in our Privilege. Whether we are capital-P Privileged or not, in whatever dimensions we consider, we are all privileged to have loved ones in our lives. We are all privileged to be loved ones in others’ lives. We all have the chance to love, and these college years are our years to make the relationships that matter. So let’s do it. Love. Love deeply, love attentively, love generously, love wholeheartedly. The best part is, it won’t even cost you a penny.

Nora Yagolnitser is a writer for the Opinion section of The Triton.