Harnessing Your Position for Good
Last month we looked at how cross-cultural competence impacts workplace effectiveness. The topic of cross-cultural competence is featured in most of my keynotes, and while my primary points are consistent, I tailor my keynotes to each audience and incorporate current events.
One of these trending topics is “privilege.” Privilege has always been a delicate topic. Whenever you mention the word, it can evoke strong reactions depending upon the context. The word carries connotations of power and often is discussed from racial equity, level of education, or family dynasty perspectives.
I have first hand experience with this as I am part of a prominent Indian family dynasty; I am the first American born member of the family that created the world's largest democracy and governed it for over 40 years. I have often reflected upon how this has impacted me and what I do with this position.
A question I am often asked is: Can privilege ever be a good thing? And a related question that I believe is important: Is it possible to harness our position for good?
I believe that, yes, those who have privilege have a golden opportunity to use that position to combat social injustices and make the world a better place.
Positioning for Good
There are four steps involved in harnessing position for the greater good:
• Understand the meaning of privilege
If you are to make good use of your privilege, you must begin by learning what privilege means.
Put simply, privilege is an unearned advantage, access, or power reserved for an individual or a group of people. The University of Michigan, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts defines it as a “society-granted” advantage accorded to some people and not others. It is not chosen and is independent of attitudes or belief systems.
More important, we cannot run away from privilege once we have it. The only choice we have is what to do with it.
• Own your privilege
Once you have understood what privilege means, it is time to own whatever advantages you enjoy. Moreover, these advantages are valuable tools in your toolbox that can be used to change the world for the better. Do not dismiss or negate your privilege. Make the choice to use it for the good of society.
There are many factors that put us in a position of privilege: sex, gender, race, religion, nationality, sexuality, disability, class, body type, level of education, and so on. What privilege(s) do you have? You need to reflect on and understand your privilege. Accept that it gives you a unique opportunity and you must embrace it and use it for greater good.
• Open up to feedback
This simply means opening up to the opinions and experiences of those who may not possess your privilege. What do they have to say? For instance, if you are wealthy, listen to what those living in poverty have to say. Some say they possess a different kind of wealth or happiness and are not interested in material riches. What do they think about the rich and wealth in general?
Opening up to feedback is often the most difficult part of engaging with our privileges. However, it is equally important because it is what will give you the strength and motivation to get up and do something with the advantages you enjoy.
• Harness your privilege for the benefit of all
The last step is to leverage your societal advantages to positively impact yourself and those around you. Use the privilege to grow as a person and reach across the divide to offer support and opportunity to those on the other side.
• Harness Leadership through Ravi Unites Schools
As a cultural catalyst who has helped bridge hostile cultural and religious divides in India, Indonesia, Iraq, and Lebanon, I started the Ravi Unites Schools program to help future leaders harness their leadership positions for the benefit of all.
By connecting schools from different countries, cultures, and time zones, and allowing them to interact, we are able to expand their minds, open their worldview, and grow in cross-cultural competence. These students then gain the cultural capital required to make them successful leaders of the future. However, unless we engage and help them open up to new ways of thinking and seeing the world, they might never fully utilize these unique powers. At Ravi Unites, we draw from personal and professional experiences to equip young students with the tools needed to transition their cultural capital into cultural competency.
What are your thoughts on this?
Are you interested in hearing more and having me speak to your audience on this or one of my keynote topics?