Friday, August 31, 2012

The Cosmic Lottery

One of my favorite writers, Rachel Held Evans, writes about what some might call predestination, but what she terms "the cosmic lottery."  She named this concept when she started thinking of how people in other countries came to be of their religion, and in her book Evolving in Monkeytown she explains:
I call it “the cosmic lottery.” It doesn’t take an expert in anthropology to figure out that the most important factor in determining the nature of one’s existence, including one’s religion, is the place and time in which one is born, a factor completely out of one’s control.
 I wholeheartedly agree with her on this.  Yet what I'm contemplating now isn't so much about religion, but about the broader, "nature of one's existence" implications of this lottery.

I admit that I don't know a lot about state or multi-state lotteries.  I never play.  I am whatever is the opposite of a risk-taker.  I would rather have twenty dollars in my hand than a minuscule chance of winning a million.  From what I do know about the lottery, even if you don't win 'the big one' there are some smaller prizes that are still quite substantial if you match most of the numbers or something.  So, you have the one (or few) people who win the mega-big-bucks jackpot and get a ridiculous amount of money, then you have the however-many-others that still wind up with a decent amount.  Of course, there are also all the losers (not a character judgement) who have nothing but a slip of paper to show they played.

What I've been thinking about is that when it comes to the cosmic lottery, if you boil it down, my kids won a share of the jackpot.  They are both white males, born in America, to middle-class parents.  Sure, there are plenty of  über-wealthy people who are above them in the "winnings," but really, on paper, they have it made.  I am NOT trying to say their life is awesome and wow look at these amazing kids.  I am also NOT saying this has anything to do Ryan and me or our parenting or how we raise them.  I am only referring to the fact that they, just by being born the type of humans they are, in the circumstances they were, are in the middle-ranks of some of the most privileged people in the world.

Think of it.  If you are a white, middle-class, American male, you are in the group of people on this planet who are probably the least likely to face serious discrimination, oppression, or harassment in the course of your everyday life.  Certainly, no one is immune to tragedy or hardship, but it's really not that likely that they are going to encounter many (if any) people who make life hard for them because of their gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or any other factor for which some people experience discrimination on a regular basis.  I am not saying this is good or okay or acceptable or that I endorse it or think it is right.  I am only stating my observations, based on living the life I live and all the reading and living and knowing people I've managed to fit in to it thus far.

So, my dilemma here is this: How do I teach my boys the correct way to live with their so-called cosmic lottery winnings?  I really feel like if you win the cosmic lottery, it is wrong to act like all success you achieve in life is purely the result of your own effort.   You did NOTHING to win!  You didn't even pay for your ticket or choose your numbers.  None of us get to chose our parents or country of origin or gender or any of those things.  How, if you end up born with a lot of advantages, can you honestly believe that you did everything on your own and that being born who you were and where you were had nothing to do with how your life turns out?

Please hear me; There is nothing wrong with success.  Success is great.  I hope my kids find something they enjoy and are able to do to make a good living.  I hope that they become honorable, lovely people and that they work hard and are able to enjoy the results of their hard work.  But I also want to help them see how lucky they are and that a big part of who they get to turn out to be was handed to them.  I want them to understand that when others are struggling to better their own circumstances, the response of those doing well should never be to sit back and bask in their own less-difficult existence. 

I want my boys to learn that any good things they may have in their lives don't make them better than anyone else.  I want them to see others as their brothers and sisters in this world, regardless of how different or the same the "lottery" turned out for anyone else.  I think this dovetails with my previous ramblings about empathy.  I am trying to figure out how to teach my boys to be able to step back from their own experience, to listen, to connect, to care, and to think.  And, when appropriate, I want them to help, to stand up, and to speak out.

Sometimes I feel like my heart will break with the weight of thinking about these things.  I wonder if there will ever come a day when there aren't so many people looking at others who are different from them and trying to find ways to deny them dignity.  I wonder if pondering these issues will make a difference.  I wonder if trying to instill a sense of humility and responsibility in my two little boys will ever matter at all.

I guess I won't know if I don't try.

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