Recently, I encountered a couple on a hike. The setting was a lovely canyon in the Red Rock country outside of Sedona, AZ. The sun was out but we were in the shade as the nearby mountains cast a shadow, and a chill, into the pine forest beneath the red mountain walls. They were the only people I had encountered for hours. We stopped to chat about the marvelous scenery and other trails we had discovered as visitors to the area.
As we were appreciating our good fortune, it happened. The woman said, “If you’re born in this country, you’ve already hit the Lotto. You have food, shelter, air to breathe.” I thought, hmm, not quite. I know people who have lost their homes, or who line up at food pantries, or who are malnourished and obese, starving in the shadow of plenty. Have they hit the Lotto? Or the people whose salaries don’t cover expenses, who forego health insurance or medication in favor of another immediate need? Or perhaps they work several jobs to make ends come close to each other. What about people living in depressed neighborhoods where the main business is drug dealing? No, I don’t think they would say they’ve hit the Lotto.
It’s a challenge to see the conditions of the world beyond the narrow slice we occupy. She was sharing a sincere appreciation for the life she lives and sees around her. There are places in this country where it does feel like Lotto winnings. I was also appreciating my luck at being in such a beautiful place and having the means to enjoy it. The danger, it seems to me, to frame the issue as having won the lottery by virtue of birth in the country, is the corollary, that if you don’t have enough you must have squandered your winnings.
At the same time, the analogy of luck makes sense. There does seem some randomness to how the benefits of the country are distributed. Just as with Lotto, there are really only a few winners out of the many who play.
- How can we distribute the “winnings” more evenly?
- What responsibility do those of us with “Lotto winnings” have for those who don’t win or can’t play?
- Is the metaphor of luck and winnings a fair one? What are the implications of that framework?