Privilege Freely Given:

..The Only Legitimate Kind?
(c) 2014, Davd

There is an ugly—not very ugly, but unwelcome—pair of tire tracks through the edge of my prayer garden, past the \_ shaped herb bed to the front of the porch where it meets the deck. They display as two grooves in the grass-and-clover lawn, not as bare dirt nor gravel; but i’d much rather the lawn’s surface were something between elegant very gradual curvatures, and the slight roughness which the winter freezes and spring thaws seem to impose on the local ground surface.

Those tracks betray the passage of machinery where i would much prefer that only feet pass; bare in the warmest days of summer, and shod at other times. I would rather the prayer garden be walked, and only walked …
… but i wouldn’t rather exclude crippled men who do the best they can despite their handicaps, and want to pray and reflect here. The tracks don’t go all over the garden, they come through from the edge toward Claude’s home to the nearest doorway.

Claude loves machinery more than i do; and he gets around using an ATV that i’ve called “his wheelchair” for two years or so. I prefer skis, a bicycle, and walking boots; but they wouldn’t serve him as well as they have served me.

If Claude had to walk here from his house—a little more than 400 metres away—he would come far less often and arrive in far more pain. His knees are severely arthritic; he wears a back brace which he needs because of a work injury; i cannot remember seeing “a spring in his step.” Sure, it would do him good to lose weight (and it would do me good to lose about half as much weight; i’m on the stout side myself), but would i serve him or the cause of brotherhood by nagging and scolding, better than by occasional gentle wry references to our mutual overweight? I don’t think so.

I do think letting him have the privilege of defacing the prayer garden lawn for 10-20 metres of that 400+, so he can come to talk and pray, “is the lesser of two evils”; or more precisely, is an unwelcome bother for me, that frees Claude from an evil consequence of his work injury and his arthritis. I grant him a privilege i would not grant to an able bodied man, from compassion for his weaknesses and respect for his diligence and good work.

Claude has been Grand Knight of the local Knights of Columbus, and he’s one of the men with whom their priest confers about local concerns. He fixes equipment for his brothers and some other folks along the road, much as my grandfather did for his neighbours sixty and seventy years ago. Often when he goes somewhere to run errands, he asks me if i’d like to ride along. Considering his handicaps, he’s quite a contributor.

If by some marvel of modern medicine, Claude were to gain freedom from his back injuries and his arthritis, so that he could walk with a spring in his step, i might start telling him, “so leave the ATV outside the prayer garden and it’ll look that much better.” I might also walk him ‘way back into the forest to look at some reforestation problems and techniques. But i don’t have the power to heal by command, that the Scriptures report Jesus and some of his Apostles had; and it looks like modern medicine can’t heal him either. I have to deal with him crippled, the way he is now, and respect how much he does in spite of his handicaps.

Respect for what he contributes and compassion for his handicaps, are the basis for his privilege. One or the other, alone, might not persuade me to privilege “the next man”*. It was a personal decision to welcome him on his 4-wheel-drive wheelchair, rather than insist he walk; and not one i would trust to a bureaucracy.

I can sympathize with those who hope and who argue for a world without privilege. I expect to write “against” privileges that i regard as undeserved, in the coming months. Before condemning some privileges, i thought it might be good context to write about a privilege i myself, freely grant to a hard working, good hearted, crippled old man—and to emphasize, “freely grant”.

If enforced rather than freely granted, privileges become something different. Perhaps, much as taxes one must pay differ from voluntary donations to charity.

There is more than one basis for privilege; and so there is more than one kind of privilege. A privilege enforced by law, by threat of punishment and often of violence, a privilege imposed rather than freely granted, puts the privilege holder “above”, and denigrates, those who lack that privilege. A privilege granted in respect and compassion for the recipient, denigrates no one, and indeed raises both granter and recipient, one for showing generosity and one for evoking it.

I suggest as a principle, that imposed privileges are illegitimate.


* For reasons based in Orthodox Christian doctrine, i am sexually abstinent and avoid the unchaperoned company of women; so while a women might be welcomed here chaperoned, a more general welcome applies to other Christian men.

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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together "in peace and brotherhood" for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.
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