How Important is Luck?

Almost everyday at the end of work I walk Arthur and Raymond down to either Arthur’s driver, or a taxi if only Raymond is in that day. They’re two wonderful people, Arthur and Raymond. At 91 and 86 respectively, they’ve both lived long successful lives. Being a 20 year old intern at the beginning of my professional career, it has been a fantastic experience hearing the stories of two men at the opposite end of their careers.

Exiting the law firm, we turn right towards High St. There Arthur’s driver, a neighbor who looks after and plays chess with him, or Raymond’s taxi waits. Both use walkers, but Arthur has to concentrate on walking to the car, even with the walker. We usually don’t talk; it is too much effort for him to hold a conversation while walking. In the elevator though, or when just Raymond is in and I walk him to the taxi, I hear fantastic stories and wonderful. Raymond graduated Harvard with Henry Kissinger, and was either in the first law class that had to take the  LSATs, or that last class that didn’t, I forget which. This last winter he spent three weeks in Florida, and another two in London. During the summer he takes long weekends at his summer house in Maine, and he lives in the permanent residence apartments of a five-star hotel in downtown Boston. He, and Arthur as well, is extremely privileged.

I don’t mean to say they haven’t worked hard for their success, because they have. Watching two men close to a hundred years old come into work almost every day and still represent clients, read cases, and do actual work has been an important lesson on work ethic for me. That doesn’t mean though, they are not privileged.

If I had taken a left towards Purchase St. when I came out of the law firm, I would have passed a homeless man who sells newspapers. Across the street is a women holding a sign asking for change. She is unemployed and trying to support her daughter. Outside the entrance to the T is another man begging, and outside South Station a man holds a sign that says, “Obama isn’t the only one who needs change.”

Walking around Boston I see even more people homeless or begging. I know none of their stories; I’m too scared to ask someone I don’t know their, let alone their story, and its especially hard to talk to someone whose begging because it forces you to recognize their humanity. Still, I find it difficult to believe all the homeless people in Boston are lazy, that all of their work ethics are so poor compared to Raymond or Arthur.

 

John Green and his brother Hank are national treasures, and if you haven’t watched them on YouTube, you should. Yesterday John posted a video discussing Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a book I would now love to read. In discussing the book, he specifically talks about luck, and he asks a discomforting question:

How do you make sense of a world where luck plays such a huge role in your triumphs and tragedies?

Is it more luck or hard work that separates Arthur and Raymond from the many homeless in the streets of Boston? If these two men had been born in a different time, place, gender, race or socio-economic status, would they have been able to accomplish all they have? If they man who sells newspapers had been born or grew up in different circumstances, would he now be sitting in the law firm, asking me to get books from the Social Law Library for him? Are our successes and failures, as Green suggests, more dependent on our luck? What do you think?

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This post was inspired by Day Seven of the Writing 101 Challenge: Focus today’s post on a contrast between two things.

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