Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lucky Bastard

I've long felt like luck and chance have a much greater influence on our lives than we care to admit.  Humans like the illusion that they are in control of their fate, and it's a necessary belief for us to be happy, but that doesn't make it true.

Here's an interesting story I heard on NPR the other day that uses social science to show how chance plays a very strong role in the success of a certain piece of art:  http://www.npr.org/2014/02/27/282939233/good-art-is-popular-because-its-good-right

It's a fascinating study.  They created 9 different online "worlds" for teenagers to download a group of 48 songs that they'd never heard before.  It turned out there was no pattern to which songs were more successful in each world.  The "hits" in one world were not hits in another world.  In each world, "history evolved slightly differently."  In other words, which songs became hits were a matter of chance.   


I've gotten into lots of arguments with people about the role of luck in our lives.  For example, I don't believe you can "choose to be happy" any more than you can choose to be healthy.  Why didn't you just choose not to get sick?  I think you can choose to put yourself in situations that give you a better chance of being happy or healthy.  You can increase your odds.  But you ultimately can't choose your fate.

There are way more forces at work on you than you are aware of, or even care to admit.  If I'm successful at something, I could attribute it to my hard work, smarts, dedication, and resourcefulness.  And maybe those were all factors.  Aside from the million other factors that gave me the opportunity to succeed, where did my ethic for hard work come from?  My capacity to learn?  My discipline?  I didn't choose any of those things.  I was lucky that someone or something instilled them in me.  My genes, my environment, my family, my time, my place.  I didn't choose any of those things.    


I'm reading a book.  Yes, another one.  I picked this one out while browsing the Humor section of our public library's new books shelves.  It's Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe:  One Man's Principles for Delicious Living

Offerman is the actor who plays Ron Swanson, the rugged, stoic, fiercely independent libertarian on the show Parks and Recreation.  Even if you don't appreciate his politics, it's hard not to love Ron Swanson.

So I picked up the book and am reading it. It's really not very well-written and is only mildly interesting, which is why it's taking me so long to slog through it.  However, what is really, really refreshing about the book is how much Offerman appreciates his blessings.  Here's a guy with a strong work ethic who is wildly successful in his chosen field, but goes on and on about what a lucky sonofabitch he is.

He gets it.

Unlike real libertarians, he understands that you can be fiercely independent and make good decisions that lead to success, but ultimately that success is never entirely your own.  

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