No Privileges Stated

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“Please remember the privilege behind that statement.”

Privilege.

It’s gratitude gone public.

The minute my feet hit the ground in the morning, I am thankful. Not only in my head, but in an outward expression. Modeh ani. Thank You. I opened my eyes. I took in a breath. Modeh ani.

As I move through the morning blessings—thank You for my sight, thank You for my clothing, thank You for my strength, thank You for my freedom.

But what is the path to the joy that we are commanded to experience? Gratitude

As I take my first sip of coffee and my first bite of breakfast, I make a blessing over the act of eating. But I don’t simply make a blessing over my meal. I make a blessing for each individual classification of food. And when I return to the same type of food later, I’ll make the blessing again.

“Simcha poretz geder.” Joy breaks all boundaries. “Mitzva gedola lehiyos b’simcha.” It is a mitzvah to be happy. “Hevay mekabel es kol ha’adam besaiver panim yafos.” Greet everyone with a smile.

But what is the path to the joy that we are commanded to experience?

Gratitude.

We are commanded to recognize our gratitude one hundred times each day, taking time from our overstuffed schedules to remember the Source of our strength, the very Origin of those blessings. 

I am filled with gratitude. But do I need to acknowledge that publicly? Gratitude has always been a private matter, but it seems lately that it must be declared publicly. Consider how that might make you feel.

A colleague was speaking at a conference, and she knew that she was expected to begin her talk with public acknowledgment of her privileges. She began, going through a list which included her race, coming from a two-parent home, and having access to quality education and food and healthcare.

She was called out, though. She hadn’t stated her privilege of “conventional beauty”.

We draw strength and connection through the act of thankfulness, while it also serves to remind us to help lift up those around us. 

Imagine being up in front of a group of people, having been invited due to your intellect and professional experience, and you are now expected to verbalize your recognition and gratitude for your own physical beauty. How does that jibe with your sense of modesty?

Furthermore, who does it benefit? Is the act of declaring privileges meant to keep the individual in check? Are these public declarations of gratitude meant for the person speaking or for the audience?

We, as Jews, have kept gratitude in the front of our minds for centuries. Our expression of gratitude should focus on maintaining the strength of our connection with Hashem and with each other. As secular society shifts focus to these public declarations, we can choose to keep the focus where it is meaningful to us as individuals. 

We draw strength and connection through the act of thankfulness, while it also serves to remind us to help lift up those around us. 

I’m thankful for this space. I am thankful for you, the person reading this and considering your own gratitude. I’m also thankful to Shternie Deitsch, who helped with this article.

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