Earlier today I was reading about how luck and chance play a huge role in our lives; certainly more than we care to consider most of the time. For example, it is accepted as a founding principle of society that those who work the hardest receive the greatest rewards. It seems a great basis upon which to engineer our political, social and economic systems doesn’t it? Of course, if we look more closely at this association, we begin to see the cracks.
What do we really control?
Consider the young person who has fought all of their short life for a fair chance at being considered for employment despite not having the greatest start. Perhaps they endured emotional and physical abuse as children; or have a dysfunctional home life and addicted parents; or were born into a war torn country devastated by diesease and poverty; or have a look not considered attractive. All of these factors fall outside of the control of the individual, and yet they all have an impact on how we are perceived by others, whether we are considered for employment, and even what our educational opportunities are.
If we take it to a logical end, we can consider that even the very moment of conception is a one-off event that influences who we are and what mix of DNA we have to work with. If we had been born with blue eyes instead of brown, might we have had more confidence or attracted the attention of certain people? If we were just that little bit taller, might we have had more success in business? If we were born male, might we have had more opportunities to pursue? If we had been been raised in a country that was prosperous might we have had access to a free education or more employment opportunities?
Similarly, those people who find what most of us view as success may have had far better beginnings in life. Perhaps they were born into a wealthy and socially influential family; perhaps by some pleasant mixture of genetics, they are more physically attractive than most others; maybe good fortune played a hand and provided them opportunities that others did not have.
Telling ourselves lies
The truth is that most of us would prefer not to think that luck plays much of a part in our lives at all. It serves us better to think that we gained our current status through sheer hard work or diligence rather than through a combination of factors outside of our control. To think otherwise would render us helpless and small in a universe where luck is the dominant force and not free will and talent! And so we tell ourselves that we exercise more control in our lives than we really do; that we have our high powered job because we deserve it; and that the oportunities that have so far come our way are there because some invisible force is directing us to a goal that we are destined for.
This is all well and good except for the fact that when we tell ourselves that we have achieved everything we have through our own force of will and talent alone, we are also giving ourselves permission to assume that people who do not have what we have are lazy, dumb or simply undeserving. The idea that everything is under our control is destructive and causes untold misery.