This is a thought-provoking (and action-begging) post by my friend Schalk who serves in Mozambique (originally posted at www.consumemore.com)
Mputa is an engineer from Zimbabwe in his late twenties. I met him here
in Manica Mozambique while he was managing the building of a hospital.
Bearing in mind the absolute crisis of the Zimbabwean economy, people
like Tafadzwa had to work real hard when they got a chance of foreign
employment; and he did. Working from seven to seven and studying from
five every morning before work, Tafadzwa (Tuff) proved over the years
that he’s not only a smart and great guy, but also dedicated and
committed. With the Zimbabwean situation worsening even further, we
were all delighted when Tuff was offered an employment opportunity in
England! Getting out of Zimbabwe and into the UK is really difficult
and Tuff was one of a few that managed to ‘save’ his career.
With excitement I told the Tafadzwa news to Short, one of my best
friends in Mozambique, to which he plainly replied: “Yeah, he is very
lucky.” And with those words we were sparked into a fiery debate that
lasted months! Why? Because I took offence that he called a
disciplined, honest, smart and hard working guy lucky. Why I hated the
word luck was amplified by the fact that in Africa, white people are
generally considered and called lucky. We are the ‘lucky ones’, as I’ve
been told a thousand times. No matter how hard I worked or studied or
tried to do good; I was simply seen as one of the lucky ones…
And so are you, just by being able to read this writing and having
internet access. Running the risk of annoying you as Short annoyed me,
I still want to inform you that we, that you, are lucky. It took me two
years of really struggling with the idea before I accepted that the
fact that I am lucky. I was born lucky. And so were you.
Luck: not a very academic or spiritual word. I’ve never heard a
sermon preached on luck and I’ve read even fewer academic papers
dealing with the complex little issue called luck. Yet, it is a word
that enters our world with great frequency. For the more snobbish among
us luck can be translated to ‘privilege’. My problem however with the
word ‘privilege’ is that it sounds smarter, it has a more deserving
ring to it, and is treated in more dignified privacy than the cheap and
public word: Luck. So, if you were born in a hospital, into a
middle-class family, if you had health care, if you went to a decent
school, had a tv, had parents who earned money, if you grew up in a
house that didn’t leak, if you had more than two sets of clothing, if
you had books to read, nutritious food to eat, etc., you can safely be
considered and labelled lucky.
You are lucky to the extent of being able (having the capacity) to
be a success, or to be wealthy. Bearing in mind the lucky start to your
life, success and wealth is not much of an achievement- you actually
have to screw up not to be one of the smart rats reaching the top
quarter of the ladder. And as we know, we normally dedicate our eighty
years on planet earth to attain these material comforts and symbols,
just to affirm, in case someone missed it, that we are the lucky ones!
To understand luck-theory one need to first dismiss a common
erroneous belief: that in life, you get what you deserve. This mantra
is a joke, a falsehood and a myth! We get taught this myth to try and
motivate us towards excellence and good behaviour. Yet, it remains a
myth and facing up to the myth is one of the major milestones on our
road towards maturity. Let me state this clearly: Most people do not
get what they deserve; as simple as that. If you were born into a
family without starvation, illiteracy and violence, while other babies
are born into such situations, it has nothing to do with merit. It does
have everything to do with luck. Theologians like to say that we live
in a fallen world, which basically mean tat many, if not most, people
are unlucky. Yet these theologians hate the word luck or the phrase bad
luck with such a passion and antagonism that the word is less spoken in
church than all those other four-letter words. Luck and God is seldom
mentioned in the same sentence. Yet we live, as the central theological
coping mechanism holds, in this ‘fallen’ (unlucky) world.
How one responds to bad luck or ‘ill fortune’ can be a matter of
faith, integrity, character, perseverance or application, but regarding
causality different fortunes for different babies boils down to luck.
If you resist the secularity of the term luck feel free to call it
God’s Providence or Divine Will. However, I don’t want to be the one
explaining to a kid why God chose a life of suffering for her while
other kids her age plays PS2, eats three meals a day, has 20 pairs of
clothing, goes on vacations, drives to school in a car, sleeps on a
mattress, etc. etc. etc. How we respond to our own bad luck or ill
fortunes is up to us and generally we try to respond in a positive way.
We know many examples of people fighting their bad luck in quite
inspirational ways. Much harder though than responding to bad luck is
the question of how we are to respond to good luck?
We already dealt with the myth that people get what they deserve. No
baby deserves to be born with HIV-AIDS for example. A second myth we
need to expose is that the matter of our good or bad luck is a private,
individualistic matter. It is not and thorough reflection on the idea
of luck should bring most rational moral people to a simple little
equation: L=R, Luck = Responsibility. We can put a rubber band on our
left wrist saying LUCK and a band on our right wrist saying
RESPONSIBILITY, which ever colour, but these two, like left and right
goes together. Let’s take a rather simplistic example: You are sitting
with four friends watching sport on the television, when another friend
arrives with two bags of potato chips. She hands it to you since you
are the host. What do you do? You get a bowl and you share it with the
group of friends. No discussion, no charging, no conditions, you simply
share what you have just received. Why? Because generally we do share
our good luck with a few people lucky enough to be close to us, those
we love. Even the most selfish people I know takes their spouses out
for smart expensive dinners, goes on expensive vacations and buys
expensive gifts for kids, family or other lucky friends. Yet the thesis
of my equation doesn’t hold that luck=selective generosity, it holds
that luck equals responsibility. That is responsibility, firstly
towards those with the worst luck- those neighbours that society hides
from us, out of our suburbs, out of our churches, out of our malls and
out of our country.
Once you look a fellow human being who has been less lucky than you
in the eye and you realise simply that you are luckier, it becomes easy
to distribute your luck to those who were born in the trap of poverty.
The trap of extreme poverty can withhold all lifelines of luck, even
withholding people or circumstances that could lead to a lucky break.
For millions of people luck, a change in fortune is as unlikely as a
trip to the moon is for you and me. Seeing a little kid without parents
growing up without being able to go to school makes it easy to
recognise and reinvest our luck. We, the lucky ones had (from infancy)
open hands to receive innumerable privileges. What kind of person would
close those very hands and live an individualistic life spending his or
her luck without considering the unlucky ones? Hands that were open to
receive should be open to give, open to give outside the little circle
of lucky ones, drawing the circle of luck wider to include more people.
Does this not in some way sound like ‘good news’? The recipients of our
good luck sharing seem to think so.
But all of this starts with you standing in front of your bathroom
mirror, pausing and realising that you are plain and simply lucky.