Founder and CEO
I’m a hugely privileged individual. If you’re reading this, my bet is that you are too.
I was born into a family that could afford most of the material comforts in life. I had a very happy childhood, grew up in some nice neighbourhoods. I’ve lived a big chunk of my life in some great cities and worked and met with some brilliant people who’ve influenced me more than I could ever thank them for.
I’m male. I’m straight. I’m reasonably healthy and don’t suffer from any mental problems. I have more friends than I can keep up with and more opportunities to succeed at anything I do than I would ever care to admit. I tick all the right boxes. Almost all of the privileges and advantages that society can bestow on someone have been bestowed on me.
Many more privileges, I’ve realised, than most people want to acknowledge.
I grew up in a family where I was encouraged to read lots and lots of books, to learn and to question. Because of the environment I was brought up in, I grew up to be a confident man with a high sense of self-worth and with the firm belief that my destiny lay in my very own hands.
I was given a lot of freedom to try out different things, meet interesting people, showered with love and instilled with confidence. Later, through the course of life, I happened to luck out and meet people who filled me with the sense that pretty much anything in the world is possible. I’ve had experiences and become friends with people who have opened me up to new ideas and exposed me to possibilities that I once could only have dreamed of.
Growing up in a loving family, in a decent neighbourhood with access and exposure to most things pretty early on in life adds a huge layer of hidden advantage than the more tangible one wealth provides. These things are important, and they matter much much more than what people seem to be willing to see. The safety net that your connections and your family provides makes life so much easier. They open doors for you most others may not even know exist.
And yet somehow, especially in the tech industry that I’m a part of, we seem to deliberately forget how privileged we really are, and seem to believe that we’re exactly the opposite. We convince each other that we’ve made huge successes of our lives through sheer talent and intelligence and anyone else who hasn’t, has failed because they don’t ‘get’ it as we do, they’re not as smart as us and are just plain lazy or bad at math.
I understand where some of it comes from. Intelligence does play a good part in this — but I suspect that part is vastly overrated. I know that I’m reasonably intelligent by any kind of standards anyone uses — but I’ve also realised that just intelligence hasn’t been the most important thing why most things in life have worked out for me so far.
More than anything else, it’s because the world is rigged in my favour. People like me are ‘meant’ to succeed. That’s just the way society is designed.
In hindsight, I entered the tech industry by sheer luck and coincidence. Coincidence only even made possible because of my privilege.
I worked on some really cool products simply by being in the right place at the right time and because some people were kind enough to give me a chance. I dated some really nice girls and made some amazing friends because I ticked all the right boxes. I’ve had access to some great job opportunities and I get to hang around some brilliant people because they see me as a ‘peer’.
Much like network effects, our privilege is all-encompassing, ever-protective, self-perpetuating yet invisible. So much of the privilege is hidden into the system that you cannot even see it.
It’s the reason why I can roam around the streets safely at night all alone while females can’t. It’s why males make more money than females for the same work. It’s why people seem much more willing to read your CV when you have the words ‘Stanford’ or ‘Harvard’ in them. It’s why VCs seem much more willing to fund you if you’ve worked at a Google or a Facebook before.
That, in the end then is the most important thing to know.
However intelligent and smart you consider yourself to be, you’ll never really know what life is like for other people. You won’t really know their pain and problems, how hard things are for them.
I’ll never really know what it is to be poor. Even if I do — I’ll be poor knowing that I have a family that will always support me, that I’ll never have to worry about a roof over my head or food to eat, and that I have the education, experience and connections that will invariably help me out.
Wealthy people will never know what it’s really like to be poor. Straight men will never know what it’s like to be gay. Men will never really know what it’s like to be a woman. Able-bodied people will never know what it feels like to be differently abled.
There are a few things that we’d do well to remember and remember often: that we are deeply privileged and very lucky.
Do we struggle? Yes, we do.
But perhaps a lot less than those who didn’t hit some kind of cosmic lottery that we did. And when we’re a wee bit more humble, we might just get a little bit better at imagining what it’s like to be someone else. What it is to truly be in someone else’s shoes.
This is especially important for us in the tech industry where the war cry is usually how clever we are and how we’re always saving the world. Silicon Valley takes no prisoners and anything less than world-changing does not hold up.
Some of life’s greatest lessons come from comic books and Uncle Ben was right on the money when he said: with great power comes great responsibility.
Do we have power?
Maybe not as much as we’d like, but we still have it.
And we have to be better at this.
This is important.
There are people out there who are asking you to listen.
Listen to them. Try and understand them. More importantly, believe them. It is possible that you think that the stories you hear are implausible. What’s more likely is that you don’t realise your advantages and it hurts your fragile ego to be told that.
Use your abundant imagination and walk a mile in someone’s uncomfortable shoes. It’s not that hard to do.
Confirm and confront your biases as best as you can.
Have the humility to recognise that while we can try to imagine what it is like for the others, we’ll never really know.
Remember your position of privilege.
Know how to not talk like you already have all the answers. To shut up and listen.
Most importantly, be kind to everyone that you encounter.
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