Published by admin on May 6, 2017

A Metaphor about Privilege

As a child, I would hold an apple seed in the palm of my hand and contemplate, really contemplate, how that tiny little seed could become the monstrosity of a fully-grown tree.

How could something so large be contained in something so tiny?

As an adult, I know that the tree is not actually contained in the seed.

Well, not exactly.


Back in the day, I taught environmental education to middle-school students. One of our activities was meant to teach students the value of “resources.” Students would get to be a young tree, and based on random selection, they would be placed in the forest.

Their placement was based on three factors:

  • sunny area vs. shady area
  • on or near the top of a hill vs. the bottom of a hill
  • mineral rich soil vs. mineral-depleted soil


Of course, it was best to be the tree that was planted in an area with plenty of sunlight, near the bottom of a hill in mineral rich soil. Why?

Because those resources helped to ensure the tree would grow big and strong. Sun is essential for photosynthesis; trees at the bottom of a hill get more rainwater; and mineral-rich soil does a tree good.

I now see why it was ridiculous for me to believe that the tree was contained in the seed because I can see what I never saw before: all the resources that are essential for that seed to grow into a thriving tree.


Can a tree defy the odds, as it were, and become a thriving tree, even if it were “born” on a slope, in the shade, in mineral-depleted soil?

(Pshhh. Can a rose grow from concrete?)

Of course. It happens.

But for every one that makes it under those conditions, the vast majority will not.

Is it a tree’s fault if it was planted in those sub-par conditions, though?

Maybe you can see where I’m going now:

To blame the tree planted on a slope for not becoming as big and strong as the tree planted by the river, with good sunlight and soil, is ludicrous.

Yet, we blame people who grew up with minimal resources all the time.


And aren’t humans kind of like trees?

Don’t we also need a variety of resources to grow “big and strong?”

Proper nutrition, basic sanitation, access to clean water, socioeconomic status, access to transportation, social mobility, family stability, access to education and healthcare.

I believe this speaks directly to the political situation of our time, especially the idea of privilege.

Just as no seed becomes a fully strong and mature tree on its own, no human does, either.

So, what kind of soil did you grow up in?



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