Updated: Mar 2
I was flicking through my newsfeed the other day when I came across an article by australianaviation.com, telling the story of a Qantas flight dispatch duty manager who, due to the closure of Australian state and federal borders, has been stood down during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
This individual is reported to have told a Senate committee that since being stood down by Qantas, they have been working four to five casual jobs and have been forced to cancel their insurances and withdraw from their retirement savings. We are told the individual is being forced to sell their investment property just to pay their bills. The individual suggests that the government should do more to help people like them. What is implied is that they do not deserve the negative outcomes they are experiencing.
Now, I do not wish to take away anything from this person. Their misfortune is both real and a terrible thing. I personally went through an analogous experience at the time of the GFC. I lost my job twice in two years, and we came within a few weeks of having to sell our house to survive. It was an extremely trying time for my family, and honestly, it took us around five years and a fair bit of luck to get back to where we were before it. So, I know some of what this person is going through.
With that said though, I want to make an observation about this person and indeed ourselves. This observation is that we generally ascribe good fortune to our own wisdom and misfortune to external events. We feel that we ‘deserve’ good luck, and conversely do not deserve bad luck. However, as we know, life is organised by the principle of ‘Limited Free-Will’. This means that we are both partially responsible for our good luck and our bad luck due to the choices we make – and not responsible for them due to the interaction of random chance.
By this, I mean that for every event in our lives, we have only a partial ability to affect its outcome. Our choices contribute to the outcome but so does the effectively random causal chains that we call chance. Our choices can make negative or positive outcomes more or less likely, but they cannot determine if they will or will not occur. Take lung cancer as an example. Smoking is widely accepted as increasing the probability of any one individual developing lung cancer. However, you could smoke and not develop lung cancer just as you could not smoke and develop lung cancer. Your choices only affect the underlying probability of an outcome, fortune/chance decide the matter. Therefore, it is a logical necessity that we accept that we neither deserve nor do not deserve luck of any kind. Luck is random and, therefore, not dependant on your virtue or lack thereof.
Returning to the example of the stood down Qantas flight dispatch duty manager, it is worth wondering if they would still have the same view if the wheel of fortune had turned otherwise. Would this person or, indeed, would we feel it was fair to give the community the profit we had received by a fortuitous win of the lottery? Would we be happy if the profit ascribed to fortune was taken from us to give it to someone who was less fortunate? I suggest that most of us would not be happy with this. We would rightly feel it was impossible to determine how much of anything could be directly ascribed to fortune as opposed to our individual choices. Secondly, innately, we are wired to be optimists. We hope that more good things will come to us than bad things.
If we seek to ameliorate the effects of fortune completely, we must inevitably suppress the good as well as the bad. We would need to place everyone on the same level and deny them any hope of more. To me, this would be intolerable, not to mention impossible in practice. Instead, we should endeavour to focus on making the best choices we can to promote the welfare of our families and communities.
Try to, through the cultivation of wisdom and the virtues (honour, courage, honesty, patience, temperance, justice, magnanimity & friendliness), make better decisions that leave less to fortune’s caprice. Help those who fall down to stand back up, but also recognise that good luck and bad luck are just temporary. What is good or bad will end. Remember that each day is precious. None of us knows when we will die or what disasters may strike us. We know on waking only that, for this day alone, we are alive and able to act in such a way as to benefit our families and our communities.
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