Just lucky… nothing more.

I’m frequently amazed by what passes for intellect. This is not a new phenomenon for me. I’ve always paused after hearing a politician, college professor, or other anointed sage after hearing or reading their take on things. Perhaps this is because I’m a blue-collar guy with a white collar education. The vast majority of people I know are not the ivory tower type. And yet, I find more wisdom in what might be called “common folk” than I do in the geniuses of record.

For example… today I read a piece in a famous newspaper, written by a professor of economics who teaches at the graduate level. This chap makes the stunning point that successful people (as measured by their incomes) are simply lucky. They’re the product of good breeding (genetics he calls it) and in a nurturing family environment (something I think is better summed up in my previous term, good breeding). Thus, successful people can make no MORAL CLAIM to their success. The subtext here is that the success wasn’t earned, but rather happened upon through simple luck of the draw. Thus, successful people are something akin to charlatans, or perhaps “posers” is the modern term.

Really? Seriously, does the chap think I’m supposed to swallow this hook line and sinker? He gives a few brilliant examples, claiming that some no-talent lip-synching boy bands make tons of money as do stupid financial managers who reap millions by risking their clients fees in sub-prime mortgage investments. Okay, valid points. Then he goes on to lament the third-world master craftsman jack of all trades who can do more than McGiver but will never make the same money as some slob of a lazy American because the master was born in the wrong place. Now I see where this is going and he drives the point home with a quaint little quote about the luckiest of the lucky, stating that they are born on third base and think they hit a triple. Finally, he claims that financial people should think of themselves as lucky to have to pay higher taxes because, you guessed it, they lucked into the privilege of paying those higher taxes to support so-called services for the less lucky. Wow, I am in awe at this logic.

Well, if you’re one of the many dozen people I know who are quite successful, you know this is too much bull for the barn. Yeah, if you’re born a goat herder in the Andes your options are slim. Unless… well… unless you have the internal realization that life does not begin and end with goat herding in the Andes. Now before you tell me I’m stretching your patience thin, I ask you to consider that success is a philosophy. If you think like a loser, you are a loser. If you think you are a prisoner of your circumstance than the bars are very strong indeed. Sound charming? It is, because there are countless examples of people who break out of their circumstances through the self-realization that things can (and dare I say, MUST) be different. They live in awful countries, have abusive parents, and maybe they can’t do advanced calculus. However, they can apply themselves to the steady and continued progress of improving their lot in life. AND there are many, many more examples, of people who simply don’t want to work that hard. They prefer excuses to effort. After all, it’s not their fault; they were just unlucky.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of my point can be made by looking at the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. These people were born into a colonial backwater. They were not the up and comers of British Society per se. Sure, George Washington had his big farm as did Thomas Jefferson and a few others. However, Ben Franklin, one of the greatest minds the world has ever know, was essentially self-taught, and had to escape his apprenticeship to his brother of all people. Old Mr. Franklin could have thrown in the towel and faced facts that he was just unlucky and doomed to be a ink smudger. He went on to become Doctor Franklin, celebrated in pre-revolutionary British society because he made himself a scholar, a scientist, and a philosoper. Likewise, George Washington, on another level entirely, could have faced his reality that his farm was at the edge of the empire and subject to the whims of the king. He could have paid his taxes (unjust as they were) and limped along in genteel style. Literally hundreds of thousands had to make the leap that life could be different than what they knew as service to the king. If that is not an intellectual leap, than I am hard pressed to find another. Within each of the Founders’ lives you’ll find stories of success through less luck and more self-reliance than the other way around. They actually embodied a nation with the philosophy that you should defy your breeding (genetics, royalty, all that nonsense) and strike out for success by creating it yourself in whatever form you fancy.

No, this may not lead to a windfall the way it did for the members of that boy band or the guy who bought the right lottery ticket. In fact, some may achieve only a modicum of financial improvement. Just the same, to claim that they are simply unlucky and doomed is to surrender before trying. And to assert that success begets obligation to those less so is to punish the very admiral qualities that produced it. The vast number of successful people in my experience have not been lucky. They have been perceptive, hard working, relentless, and tireless. The fruits of their ethic rewards them well into the future not to mention the positive effects distributed to those around them. To attribute this to randomness is intellectually dishonest if not outright balderdash.

Please, would someone check if the people who proffer such pablum have opposable thumbs. Thank you.

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Published in: on April 26, 2009 at 8:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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