Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lottery Winners!

Not everybody loves a winner. Hearing about people you know who have won the jackpot is not guaranteed to engender the finest of sentiments. As an illustration and by way of example, consider the first thought that enters your mind when hearing about people whom you don’t know who have won big money; viz., “How long will it take before they fritter it all away?” Our instinct is that we might as well watch a drunk playing with a lighted torch as keep an eye on a commoner who has won the lottery; in either case it’s assumed that it is only a matter of time before he burns himself. The malevolent fascination with strangers is certainly more macabre than one would expect to be the reaction upon learning of a friend’s similar good fortune; however, the truth is probably not a great deal less magnanimous.

Even before uttering the usual tripe about “Good for you!”, the furtive question arises whether we ought to have bought one of those blasted tickets ourselves. Suddenly the inconceivable randomness of life takes on an entirely new predictability, one which might well have been for us to enjoy had we only had the foresight. All that mathematical science about the greater likelihood of being hit by lightning three times successively as winning the lottery is in an instant swept aside like so many sour grapes. We are left imaging, “It could’ve been me!” Or what is more probable, “It should’ve been me!”.

There is however one salient and popular exception to this lack of enthusiasm for the lucky winners and that is when the winners are somehow disadvantaged. It is obviously much easier to become lyrical about an impoverished widow than a real estate agent who has won a pile of the right stuff. To a degree this distinction is not without footing as it connects the want with the win rather than the desire with the dough, but in either case the issue of serendipity and mere luck is irrelevant to the result. We feel compelled to sanction the gratuity of the experience with some element of merit (or at the very least prior deprivation).

In an effort to disguise our resentment of the windfall of those who in our eyes are already fortunate enough we frequently take the liberty of suggesting to whom they might more beneficially donate their winnings. It is hard to imagine anybody who harbours such a charitable view as not being incredibly sanctimonious. Such seemingly saintlike behaviour is however more likely the product of displeasure at witnessing the undeserved happiness of others. The value of no pain, no gain assumes an added dimension.

It is no accident that the greatest truisms in life are about the misfortune of others. It is by far less frequently that we encounter a celebration of success, particularly when it is so heinous as to derive from sheer luck. I mean to say, how can you possibly congratulate someone for that! Nonetheless there are few of us who will not attempt to rise to the occasion and behave generously to our favoured brethren. But it can be a stretch.

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