Gina Behm, MA, LCPC
Privilege Check: Be Humble
For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you know I was out of the country for the majority of this month exploring the land of my people, Italy. You’ve seen the highlights of the most beautiful things we saw, did and experienced, but what you haven’t yet learned is some of the humbling lessons I learned during this time. I want to share some of these things with you, because every once in a while, we all need to have a little privilege check.
I will start off by saying, I recognize my own privilege simply in the fact that I was able to take this vacation with my spouse. It doesn’t matter that we saved for a year, and will probably be saving for the rest of this year too, we are extremely privileged to work in jobs that allow us the time and finances to travel. While I recognize this, to be honest with you, it is not where my personal privilege check started.
When we left the U.S., we took a flight to Canada, and then from there took a second flight to Rome. That first flight to Toronto was a SMALL. PLANE. I mean really small. One of those that only has two seats on each side of the rows, you’ve got to walk sideways down the aisle to find your seat and you are very likely to hit your head on the overhead storage if you aren’t careful. Ryan and I find our seats at the back of the plane, the one flight attendant on duty has gone through the safety instructions and is now checking to make sure everyone has followed the appropriate protocol for take off (seats up, tray tables up, seatbelt on). She reaches our row, takes a look at the woman across from me and says with a slightly frustrated tone, “ma’am, please fasten your seatbelt for departure”. The passenger mumbles something to the flight attendant, who immediately changes her attitude, shuffles away and returns within the minute, handing the woman what appears to be a seatbelt. I’m confused initially, thinking, “is this woman’s seatbelt broken??”, panic beginning to flood because, side note, I hate flying. However, it didn’t take me all of 30 seconds to realize this woman, who is living in a larger body, was unable to fasten her seatbelt without an extender.
This hit me quick and it hit me hard. This is the kind of stuff that I, someone who lives in a smaller body, has the PRIVILEGE to not ever have to think about. Replaying the experience in my mind, I was mad at the flight attendant for initially being rude, I felt sad for the woman who I assumed felt ashamed as indicated by her whispered request, and then just general frustration with the population that we have so many resources at our fingertips and we can’t figure out how to make flying something that everyone can do in the same way. So, at this point, I have been humbled once by being reminded of my own thin privilege, but it doesn’t stop there. Did y’all notice how I said I assumed this passenger was ashamed? THAT IS A GROSS ASSUMPTION CREATED BY SOCIETY AND DIET CULTURE. Who am I to assume that those living in larger bodies must feel shame? WRONG. People in any body type get to tell ME how they feel, I don’t get to assign it. Now, it took me a minute to forgive myself for this assumption, but I was able to get there and hopefully y’all can too. I have to remind myself I too am a product of my environment, and I just need to keep working; I had to keep in mind to Behm it on the Brain! We are conditioned for most of our lives to have thoughts like these, and I'll take this moment to remind YOU that the awesome thing is that we can recondition our brains with a little hard work. I caught myself, the same way I catch myself when I automatically assume a doctor is a male; and that my friends, is the first step in improving.
The second experience I want to touch base on is one that again y’all may already know about via my social media, so I will be brief. When I left on this trip, I wasn’t feeling 100%. I had a cough and what I felt was the beginning of a small cold. Over the two weeks we spent in Italy, I was getting consistently worse. By day 10, it was bad enough that Ryan (bless his soul), had to do some research on Italian equivalents of American medication, find a pharmacy and buy me some drugs. While I remained a trooper and we made it to all of our tours and explored every city thoroughly, I did have to adjust my expectations of my “perfect” trip to Italy quite a bit. I had to go home and nap every. single. day. I mean it; every day. I had to fight to keep my energy up, agree to spending money I didn’t want to “waste” on meds and much more. This was humbling because as y’all know, I’m a self proclaimed recovering perfectionist. Lemme tell ya, this was NOT the Italy trip I had planned. I got a sharp reminder that I can plan and plan and plan something until there will be NO surprises… and there will still be surprises. This was a news flash to me to take it day by day and just make the best of whatever situation comes to you.
The final humbling experience I want to address is an overall one, and it has to do with cultural barriers. Ryan and I don’t know a lick of Italian. I know a lot of Spanish, which is close, but it’s obviously not the same. Do y’all know how hard it is to communicate when you are literally being misunderstood? Lemme tell ya, there is a LOT of hand motions going on. The point and nod method if you will. Now I have never been much of a traveler. Prior to this experience, I had been out of the country three other times; all to either English speaking countries, or resorts where the staff spoke fluent English. One of my trips was to Australia, and during that trip I thought I had a moment of realization in regards to how much bigger the world was than me and the U.S. Now I’m thinking, I didn’t actually have that moment. Or maybe I did, but this was much different.
Being immersed in a culture I didn’t know well, couldn’t clearly communicate in and was overall unfamiliar with changed me. I was less outgoing and much more hesitant. This is not to say I felt unsafe, because that was not the case. Rather, I was just… more careful, reserved… I didn’t feel comfortable with myself. Now follow me here; you may feel like this is a leap, but give me a shot. Why did I feel uncomfortable? Because I felt I didn’t belong. I felt I wasn’t knowledgeable/prepared enough and incapable of advocating for myself. I bet you can all imagine what I mean considering my circumstances! But now lets take a different set of circumstances. What about people in our everyday lives that feel this way; have a sense of not belonging, being different, feeling continually misunderstood. Adoptees, refugees, immigrants, transgender individuals, veterans, women or men in a career not typical for their gender, those struggling with social anxiety or living with trauma. These people live HERE in the U.S.; they are our neighbors, our co-workers, our peers. Can you imagine? It’s humbling right? To realize, I can go about my day with minimal doubts in my abilities to succeed in life. I am comfortable here in my home, in my state, in my country, that I will be understood, able to advocate for myself and cared for. Not everyone has that, and it is not a privilege to be taken for granted.
What are some humbling experiences that y’all have recently experienced or have had in the past? It is so important to not only recognize these moments, but also to understand why they hit us so hard. It’s an uncomfortable reality, but don’t push it away. The reality that others don’t have the privileges that you do. Having privilege doesn’t make you a bad human. How you choose to use (or ignore) your privilege does say something about who you are though. Recognize your privilege. Make moves based in that knowledge. Don’t push away the uncomfortable. Lean into it. You can be a better human. Just check your privilege, and be humble.