What’s Luck Got to Do With It?

Monopoly ShoeSome people call “IT” privilege. Wealth, race, gender, ability, and on and on and on. I call “IT” luck. Maybe it’s because I’m adopted, and I know that my life may have turned out very differently but for a few choices that various people made in the first month of my life. Not better or worse, necessarily. Just different. Not good or bad luck – just Luck.

This segment from PBS Newshour (folks, we NEED to keep journalism like this alive!) seems almost like a piece from The Onion at first. Oooooooh! Look at those nasty rich people! But for those who watch and hear and allow themselves to really listen (and I’m talking about everyone here, not just the wealthy), you see that it’s pointing out that we all – regardless of the kind of luck we’ve had in our lives – we all have the potential to be the greedy, grabbing, gross people who take candy from kids and ignore pedestrian crosswalks. In the same vein, we all have the potential to be kind, sharing, generous people who give of their time and money and positive role modeling.

The rigged Monopoly game explains it nicely. Mainly because it shows that being rich or being poor doesn’t INHERENTLY make someone bad or good. It’s the rationalization of why you’re privileged, even if it’s for a short time. We all want to believe that it’s our own talent, skill, hard work that has provided the benefits in our lives, don’t we? Because we DO have talents and skills, and we DO work hard. And admitting that some of the nice clothes and shoes and Broadway tickets and beach club memberships come from Luck – pure, dumb, longed-for Luck – means that another nasty conscience-tweaking emotion might pop up: Guilt. And that might lead to tough questions like: Why do I get to have nice things when others don’t?

And who can relax with a chilled bottle of prosecco at the sidewalk cafe if they feel guilty about the ragged suit and unpleasant odor surrounding the man who is interrupting your conversation?*

Bottom Line: We have control. We can ALL be more compassionate. We can ALL be more callous. So how about we stop acting like some of us are so much more enlightened? Or more bigoted. Or more generous. Or less deserving.

Next week, the shoe may be on the other foot.

* This is not a condemnation of anyone else. This is my experience. I’m quite able to do my best to enjoy a (lucky) chilled bottle of wine with a friend even as I see someone in dire straits. It’s called survival, denial, justification. And sometimes I give him (her, them) a dollar, and sometimes I don’t. Just like you probably do.

Need some help swallowing the evils in the world? Check out the moonshine grid at yeah write. Really. Do.

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About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to the car culture, dealing with leaving a career I love, and spouting off along the way.
This entry was posted in People are Good, People do silly things, random observation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to What’s Luck Got to Do With It?

  1. Great post. The problem is, yes, that somehow we’ve created a global society in which what you *have* seems to indicate your relative worth as a person. More stuff = better person. Which is, of course, hogwash. George Saunders gave a commencement speech this spring in which he talked about this sort of thing – beautifully said and funny, too, as well as incredibly powerful: http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/?_r=0

  2. mamarific says:

    That is so interesting about the luxury cars being the ones not to stop at a crosswalk. I’ve noticed that here in Houston, I am more likely to be run down by a Mercedes in the grocery store parking lot than a Honda. It’s the entitlement thing, and you’ve made a great point with this post.

    • It’s funny how it breaks down. The same for charitable giving. (Except for the super-givers who break the mold.) I hope it comes across that any one of us can be that Mercedes-driving goober, unless we continue to be conscious of all the influences around us.

      Thank you for stopping in!

  3. outlawmama says:

    This is making me think about my own luck– good and bad. Thank you for making me think.

  4. it’s all so true. i really try to always appreciate and remember, but we all take for granted and are capable of ignoring human tragedy right in front of us. i always appreciate being reminded. thank you.

    • I really do think it’s human nature, a survival tactic, to forget or veil items that don’t allow us to give ourselves kudos sometimes. And I think it’s the same kind of survival that allows us to see very sad, even horrific things and still move along.

      Thank you for stopping in, Mama.

  5. zoe says:

    This post comes at such a perfect time…living in the Berkshires of MA at tourist season is that whole PBS segment personified. Just yesterday I was in Lenox bitching behind the wheel of my car about the “entitled bastards,” who kept stepping out in front of me without looking….forgetting my part in the whole scenario…Im with the Outlaw Mama…thanks for making me think and come back to reality!

    • It’s hard to be the “hometown” when temporary visitors come in. I usually defend people – and it takes a lot of defending when it’s tourists in NYC!

      I think WE become a lot happier when we remember that truism about being kind because everyone is fighting a hard battle. Some people just have nicer cars. I am not excusing the behavior, just saying that we could all be that person to someone else.

  6. Stacie says:

    Yes, thanks for this! My Dad has always been big on the whole luck thing, so I’ve always appreciated that aspect of my fortunate life. It never ceases to amaze me when cars barrel through crosswalks. But that’s in part being from CA where most people do stop (at least compared to here in NJ).

    • Yes! I’m very grateful to have grownup with parents who never took what they had for granted. And while they wanted to give us nice things – we always felt like it was because THEY loved us. Not that WE deserved it. I don’t know if that makes sense. And I know not everyone has the same reaction.

      About crosswalks: I think people are always in a rush and don’t LOOK ahead. I’ve gone through a few crosswalks myself if I thought it was unsafe to stop – but that usually means I wasn’t driving slow enough. πŸ™‚

  7. Daniel Nest says:

    Hard work? Talent? What are these fancy words you’re throwing around…must look into that book with word explanations…what’s it called?

    But yes – hear hear, luck/chance plays such a large part in our lives that those who dismiss it as unimportant are lying to themselves!

  8. Larks says:

    I loved this. LOVED. I think as a society we’re prone to convince ourselves that bad things don’t happen to good people and that tendency can be really damaging. Poor? It’s because you’re lazy but it won’t happen to *me* because I’m a hardworker. Raped? I bet she put herself in an unsafe situation while dressed slutty. I don’t do those things so I’m safe. Sick? Won’t happen to me because I eat healthy foods unlike some people. It’s like we deliberately try not to be empathetic in order to make ourselves feel safer.

  9. This is really interesting. First, I really appreciated the video segment – it reminded me of watching 60 Minutes or CBS Sunday Morning with my mom. But also, it really does make you think. Having grown up without much, having become more fortunate as an adult, and then having to go back to being a little more cautious, I feel like I’ve been on all of the sides. I do think most of it is luck. There’s some hard work involved for sure, but there is more luck than anything else, I think.

    • Absolutely. I definitely don’t mean that hard work doesn’t count. It does. But it gets me when people think it was ALL them. Other people work really hard too and (sickness, job loss, trauma, family, etc…) something ends up creating roadblocks or detours. I think the word you used – “fortunate” – is what it’s all about. We all need to recognize that. (But it doesn’t mean we can’t give ourselves and others kudos, too!)

  10. dorothyadele says:

    I agree that there are many extenuating circumstances like health and being a member of a loving family etc., but if someone is honest, treats others well, works hard and becomes successful, don’t they make their own luck? Also, many of these successful people remember where they came from and generously support several charities and also pay high taxes that help those that are not as fortunate.

    • I don’t believe people make their own LUCK, per se. However, I agree that all those qualities allow us to take advantage of the opportunities put before us. This blog post was responding to a specific incident. And it really grates on me when those who have had relatively few roadblocks put before them condemn others who have.

      Statistically, the less someone has (monetarily), the more percentage of their assets they give to charity. So YES! there are the Buffetts and Gateses and Zuckerbergs and various celebrities in business, sports, film, and so on in philanthropy. But the perception that they are propping up our society whether in gifts or taxes just isn’t true.

      Regarding the making of luck: I’ve learned from experience that we don’t all react to difficult times in the same way — and often enough, the way we WANT to react or BELIEVE we’ll react doesn’t materialize when idea becomes reality. The second paragraph of this blog post is really the gist of it – combined with the video.

  11. dorothyadele says:

    Thank you for your response. To your point, some of my middle class friends who became successful through hard work — and they are living the American dream — often say that they are blessed or lucky because they had opportunities.

    They give generously to family, friends and charities and help, whomever they can — even that homeless man next to our table. Some of them significantly changed lives of people they know and don’t know.

    One of them recently said, “I am blessed, and I believe that I have been put on this earth to help others.”

    To me, not stopping at a crosswalk or treating others with disrespect is a character issue. Sometimes material things make insecure people act pompous, and I have no respect for them.

    Based on my friends and aquaintances, the video characterization does not fit them because they are good honest people who suffered hardships in their middle class families. They worked hard and took advantage of opportunities. They are well respected and liked in their communities.

    BTW my 18 year old is spending the week working at a soup kitchen so that he will understand how circumstances adversely affect people’s lives.

    Thanks for sharing the video.

    • Yes! and more Yes! I saw the video as pointing out that we all have the same potential for both sides of the positive and negative behaviors they show. As I just went back to read my post, I realized that this:

      “…it’s pointing out that we all – regardless of the kind of luck we’ve had in our lives – we all have the potential to be the greedy, grabbing, gross people who take candy from kids and ignore pedestrian crosswalks…” should also have a flip side to make *my* point clear. Thank you for being my editor!

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