Thursday, August 27, 2020

Privilege and the Acorn

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Jim Cathcart on one of his books that featured the acorn as a symbol of our uniqueness and the importance of understanding who we are. If we are an acorn, our best future self is a strong, stately oak and nothing we do will make us a graceful willow. The best
strategy for success is to build on our oakness.

A recent Facebook discussion about privilege prompted a remembrance of that acorn metaphor. The term “white privilege” is loaded with political baggage. It stimulates a negative reaction in people who have worked hard and struggled for what they’ve achieved in their lives, people who were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths and feel diminished by the term, as if their achievements were simply gifts and not the result of their hard work and determination.

So, let’s replace the term privilege with blessings and unpack it through the perspective of an acorn. The first blessing is simply being alive. If the oak tree had never created the you-acorn, there would be no story to tell, no first blessing. But oaks are good at making acorns so every year millions of acorns fall from their limbs.

Where an acorn falls is the second blessing. If you happen to fall into a drainage ditch and get washed out to sea, end of story. Some fall too close to the mother tree and languish without the right amount of sunlight, some fall on sunbaked rocks, withering and dying without life-giving moisture. A few fall onto favorable ground and take root.

The third blessing is finding protection. Acorns are food for many animals, but let’s assume the you-acorn escapes the ravages of squirrels and roaming pigs. Other threats abound: fires, the crushing tires of dirt bikes, dune buggies, or unseeing hikers, even being herded into burn piles by zealous leaf blowers. But little acorn-you also survives those hazards.

The next blessing is dirt … and air. Fall on a rocky outcropping and you may not find enough dirt to nourish the tiny roots you put forth into the world. It will also greatly diminish your prospects if you wind up in an area where the air is toxic.

Another blessing is time and space. You need enough time in the right conditions of soil, water, and sunshine to take root and grow, beyond the reach of RoundUp happy gardeners, roaming deer, and bulldozers intent on creating a new community right where you chose to grow. You also need space. If you happen to sprout in an area where a hundred other acorns have sprouted, you will all be in competition for the same food, water and sunlight. Some of you won’t make it.

Life has many hazards. Few acorns survive the journey to becoming mighty oaks. Those successful ones are to be admired for their beauty and strength. They also remind us that life, successful life where we can become our best potential, requires a lot of blessings.

Being aware of the blessings of our lives is a form of gratitude. No acorn becomes an oak simply because of its own hard work and determination. No human becomes a successful adult without the support of others and the nourishment, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, needed to grow and become strong.

Barry Switzer, hugely successful football coach at the University of Oklahoma and the Dallas Cowboys, once said, “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.” (This saying is often attributed to Jim Hightower in a political speech about George Bush, but Switzer said it earlier.)

“Being born on third base” can mean many things beyond being born with money. While people who have achieved success often have more education and more connections than the average person, having the blessings of good health, sharp intelligence, support of family and friends, emotional balance, strong work ethic, passion and persistence, as well as drive and determination are also major differences in how successful a person becomes.

Being part of a majority group in power is also a blessing … not the only one, of course, … but a powerful one. Being born an acorn in an oak forest may make it harder for us to understand the journey of a willow.