By Robert Mann
I don’t know what emotion you experienced when you heard the news of Tiger Woods’ arrest on DUI charges, but I thought, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.”
I’ve been careful to avoid driving while impaired but that doesn’t mean I haven’t sometimes wondered, “Should I have had that second drink?” And who knows how I graduated college with a clean record. I was sometimes stupid and reckless.
But here’s the truth: I was lucky.
Woods’ arrest — and a few poor souls I’ve seen shuffling along the streets — have me thinking how we often indulge the conceit that our station in life results from our good sense, smarts or diligence. We’re quick to congratulate ourselves for the hard work and intelligence that vaulted us to the (relative) top of the economic pile.
If we see some person who can’t support his family or gets into legal trouble, we credit our moral superiority and the industry that prevents us from a similar fate.
The hard truth I struggle to remember is this: Our success is not entirely the result of our intelligence and bustle. We get more lucky breaks than we recognize or acknowledge. One guy gets pulled over for drinking and driving. The other doesn’t. Random chance influences our lives and secures our successes more than shrewd planning.
If you are a white male born in the United States in the 20th century, you begin with advantages that more than two-thirds of the world never enjoys. You will not face racial or gender discrimination and life will seem much more egalitarian to you than to someone in Sub-Saharan Africa or Bangladesh.
And if you are born into a family with any resources at all — enough to secure a decent education, good nutrition, great health care and ample recreation time — you have hit the jackpot. You begin with a massive head start over 80 percent of humankind.
While I know people who have overcome severe economic and social adversity, I’m also aware of the enormous advantage of being born into a stable family. More than the resources I enjoy, I’m grateful my wife’s parents and mine were married for more than 50 years (my wife’s more than 60). Their examples and the emotional and economic stability that emanated from them may be the greatest gift she and I will pass along to our children.
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