Commentary

What card were you dealt?

There is a notion that runs deep in American society that goes something like this: Work hard, be ambitious, and you will succeed in just about anything you attempt. I grew up with this notion and I still believe it’s true. But only to a point. It is truly commendable when people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But what about those who have no boots to begin with?

That idea was driven home in dramatic fashion in a comment made by none other than Warren Buffett, the Berkshire Hathaway genius from Omaha, Nebraska. Buffett is one of the wealthiest men in the world and one who gives graciously from his abundance. Here is what Buffett said to an after-dinner audience a few years ago: “Congratulations! You have all won the Ovarian Lottery! What, you ask, is the Ovarian Lottery?”

Paul Harrington

Was our birthplace and birth home a gift from God or just dumb luck?

Buffett went on to explain. He said, “You were born white. You were born in America. You were born healthy. You were born with a reasonably high IQ. You were born into a home that placed some value on education. And, you were born into a home that promoted some kind of work ethic.

“Now,” Buffett went on to say, “don’t you dare take credit for any of that! It was all a gift from God or perhaps an accident of fate. But, whichever, you were granted six gifts of great worth. Change any one or two of these factors and your life could be a polar opposite of what it is now. After all, it was these gifts that most likely enabled you to get whatever wealth you now possess.”

Stacked decks?

You could have just as easily been born in a rice paddy in Bangladesh, a mud hut in Tanzania, or a slum in Brazil. Was our birthplace and birth home a gift from God or just dumb luck?

We may never know for certain, but, in either case, most of us won the Ovarian Lottery and we ought never look critically at those who were not so lucky. We could easily have been given a low IQ, poor health, a very dysfunctional family, or even dark skin which, in some parts of the world, is still a “handicap” because of an ugly reality called racism. I am not just sure what message Buffett was trying to convey but, for me, it was a reminder that life is something like a card game.

Some folks are dealt high cards, some low cards, and some no cards at all. At the very least we should all be more thankful, more generous, more empathic, and a lot less critical of those around us.

Paul L. Harrington is pastor emeritus of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Apple Valley, Minnesota. He is president of the board of directors of Metro Lutheran.

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