Privilege and mānuka rods

Two boys arrived at the foot of the mountain with the same boulders blocking their path. Healthy futures and happiness lie ahead. They just need to move those rocks. 

One of the boys was handed a lever – a long strong mānuka rod from his tūrangawaewae. His parents carved the stories of their tūpuna on the shaft, so it came with mātauranga and love.

That lever gave the first boy the strength of many. He toa takitini. 

With its help, he was able to shift the boulders, he rolled them out of the way and started on his path. There were other boulders along the journey but he had the lever with him, always. 

The other boy pushed at the first rock blocking his start. He tried and tried, then gave up exhausted. It was too heavy to move alone. He tried climbing over but it was too tall and he didn’t want to fall down from high. He thought about calling for help, but the other boy managed to start on his path, so this must be normal. He tried again harder but couldn’t climb or shift it. After a while sitting in the heat, he found another narrow track off to the side. A warning sign hung over the path, but it was the only way, so off he set, not knowing where it would take him.

I’m that first boy and the lever is my privilege. 

It’s made of my parents’ education and experiences, the capacity to show love, the examples of work ethic and consideration for others they set (the same examples they had from their parents and grandparents) and my connection to our tūrangawaewae.

The second boy is my mate. He grew up with none of those privileges. Our paths are entirely different, but they started the same. He’s in jail now, I work on mahi I love and enjoy.

Mine aren’t the usual privileges we talk about. They’re not related to money, class, or being the dominant race/sexuality/gender in a society. If you’d seen young Otaki me hanging out on the corner of Maurices Fish & Chips, you probably wouldn’t have called me privileged. But privilege means a benefit enjoyed by a person or group, beyond what is available to others. So whether or not my mate and I realised it, my parents were a hell of a privilege.

It’s easy to judge an individual based on what we think their choices were. Especially if you’ve never heard the cries of a frustrated child struggling with a boulder that nobody else sees. Especially if you’ve forgotten about the lever you carried since birth.

I didn’t make better choices. I had better choices. I could move that boulder, and take the path I did, because of what I was given when I arrived. I didn’t earn my parents. Hard work didn’t give them to me. But it’s because of their examples that I love critical thinking, problem solving, reading, writing, exercising, working for our people. It’s because of them I know how to thrive. That’s my privilege. They are my privilege.

What are yours? How did those privileges change the choices you had? 

When you see others and their outcomes, do you judge them based on the choices you had, or do you take the time to consider what theirs might have looked like?

Imagine my mate’s parents. Whatever they look like, try swapping them for yours and consider if his life would have been any different. Would he be where he is now? Would you?

2 thoughts on “Privilege and mānuka rods”

  1. Ngahiraka Ruawai-Hamilton

    Ngā mihi. I love the honesty and perception. Doing our best. Keep these coming. Good to know we’re not alone. Thank you.

  2. Julianna Varadi

    I totally agree and love the story. I related it to my life and it made me understand and appreciate my privilege. My parents were normal hard working parents especially my dad who escaped the uprising in Hungary in the late fifties arriving in new Zealand with the shirt on his back. He taught me to never give up. See your future and work towards it . Again not normal privilege people think of. Not money or stature but privilege none the less. It made me strive from an early age. It made me a strong woman and I hope to give that privilege to my daughters. Great prospective. Thank you.

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