Take a second to think about everything you have. Now take another second to think about how you got it.
No doubt, it was the result of your hard work. But it wasn’t only your handwork. Chances are it was also a culmination of several other tiny advantages you’ve had in your life; some you may not even think twice about.
Growing up in relatively affluent North Toronto and attending public school throughout, I was raised among both the city’s rich kids and the kids who faced more of a financial struggle.
While some had two or three new winter jackets each year, others wore the same one for most of high school. While some went to their calculus tutor twice a week after school, others worked part-time jobs at restaurants in the evening before going home to tackle their growing pile of homework at midnight over a stiff cup of coffee.
Many of the wealthier kids remained blissfully ignorant to the differences and struggles of their less advantaged friends. “Call in sick,” they’d tell them when they had a shift that fell on the day of what promised to be an epic house party, not understanding that working that shift was what was paying for the TTC Metro Pass that got them to school.
The majority of the wealthier kids went on to great universities and later to great jobs. Of course, some of the less advantaged kids did too – it just wasn’t as easy. While the wealthier kids had parents who made a quick phone call to get them in the door, others pounded the pavement as hard as they could, making cold calls and faking it at networking events until they finally made it (that’s if they could get time off from their part-time, loan-repaying gigs).
The thing is, some friends still don’t seem to understand why others in the group aren’t as eager to check out the new, overpriced hotspot as they are. They’ll suggest the most expensive restaurant option, not taking into consideration that the particularly hefty tab could give others anxiety, especially if the first of the month looms near.
It’s not that they mean to be ignorant or ostracize anyone. They just seem to be unaware of the little advantages and differences between them and their less financially fortunate friends. It’s not necessarily their fault. Privilege is often uncomfortable and difficult to talk about. As highlighted by illustrator Toby Morris, talk of “privilege” is often academic, technical, and difficult to digest. As such, the advantaged aren’t necessarily as educated on the struggles of the less fortunate in their daily lives as they are the severely less fortunate on the global scale.
That’s why Morris created a simple cartoon to illustrate fortune and inequality.
As he points out, some advantages and disadvantages are not as obvious as others. In his comic, he illustrates how these “little differences” – whether it means having to work a part-time job throughout university or having parents with strong connections – add up to an overall better position in life.
The comic doesn’t mean to imply that some people have everything handed to them; just that all of their added advantages put them in a better position to succeed. The success of many of my “rich” friends is undoubtedly due to their hard work; but to suggest other factors weren’t involved would be naive. If they knew that they’d be left paying off the tab, some may not have opted for law school or med school.
The prospect of attending university is suddenly a lot less enticing if you know you’re going to be paying off subsequent student debts for years after you hang a degree on your wall.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. I know wealthier kids who have gone on to do virtually nothing of meaning with their lives. And I know disadvantaged sets who were able to pay off student loans and buy property (without the help of parents) by the age of 30.
Finally, I also know people whose good looks seemed to open just as many doors as family dollars could (meaning, advantage isn’t just monetary).
Although we have the potential of upward mobility in Canada and a very real possibility for a level playing field, as Morris demonstrates, the “starting points” and “paths to success” aren’t the same for everyone.
And, sadly, they likely never will be.