River Water

We are like rivers.

I’ve been reading a lot about privilege, gender, and colonization. I will not even try to pretend to be an expert in this area. I was thinking about how I might be unaware of my own life, its privilege. The role of luck and chance. The following metaphor / parable is what I came up with. It’s a bit if a clumsy analogy, but I thought it worked on a simple level for me.

A river flows in the direction that it flows because of many things. Although some rivers are fast, or slow, or deep, or wide, they are all made of the same water. A river is nothing more than the water that flows along a course that was created by the water that came before it. The water that created the channel, the water that created the canyon, even the water that is downstream, pulling the river along its course. The river doesn’t know this. It cannot know the struggles of the earlier river-water that moved the rocks. It cannot know the ease with which the earlier river-water flowed down an unobstructed path. It cannot know if the earlier river-water was damned or if a melting glacier helped the earlier river-water to speed its course and deepen its channel. It cannot know that all rivers eventually stop flowing and that all river-water becomes part of the same sea.

All the river can know is it that it is flowing now: flowing quickly or flowing slowly; constrained or unconstrained, oblivious to its own history even as its present course and identity is shaped its history.

We are like rivers in this way. We flow along in our lives, making progress, confronting obstacles, and not always knowing the full context of our our life course.

Better understanding

But we can try to know. Even as we try to live in the present, we can try to understand how the past shaped the channels and canyons of our life-course. We can see how our current circumstances might make it easier or more difficult depending on the obstacles that previous generations faced. We are beneficiaries to the sometimes arbitrary circumstances that favoured or did not favour those who came before us. Those of us whose lives flow though clear cut channels may not always realize that we’re travelling a path with fewer obstacles, because those obstacles were removed long before us. We receive these benefits, earned or unearned, aware, or unaware.  But people whose paths are constrained or obstructed are all too aware of the impedance.

But we’re all the same river-water, flowing to the same sea. But we would do well to be aware of our privilege and to understand that we may not all have the same course to travel…but we still have to travel to the same place.