DARE TO ASK: Born lucky? Some seem to think so
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
I sold my business and am well-off. People think of me as "lucky" to be born
white and smart, that my parents encouraged me, etc. But I worked hard to get
where I am. Do people not as well-off think I am "just lucky," like someone who
inherited wealth is?
J.D., 47, male, Summit, N.J.
As my mother would say: "People make their own luck."
Lee, 32, female, Los Angeles
Too many folks with wealth tell the half-truth that "hard work" got them
where they are. Surely you know that the people who scrub your toilets work far
harder than you ever did. Count your blessings . . .
JB, 32, female, Seattle
I spent most of my life on heroin and cocaine. . . . It was fun, really, fun
- and now I'm going to one of the top 10 schools (because of who my dad is) in
the country. I remember talking to my lawyer for my latest larceny charge, and
she told me I had three things going for me: I was white, upper-middle class and
young. Am I lucky? Yes. Proud? No. Would I trade my place with anyone? No.
Tommy, 22, Raleigh, N.C.
You have done what you needed to get where you are. I grew up as poor white
trash. I decided I wanted out of that situation. Those who consider me lucky are
Danny, 40, Atlanta
Danny: I don't loathe people who have done well, especially those reaping the
rewards of working hard. But I am deeply concerned about the powerful influence
of the super-wealthy and giant corporations.
Sarah M., 26, Portland, Ore.
Psychologist Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire in England
has spent a decade offering well-researched reasons why some people are lucky
and others not.
He even gave an excellent justification for why we had no chance getting an
interview with him: He's too slammed working on his next book.
The man'll be lucky if we ever give him 45 words again.
To quote from his 2003 article in The Skeptical Inquirer: "Lucky people
generate their own good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at
creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to
their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations,
and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good."
We did get lucky with Shira Boss, though.
"Most people believe in the American dream: that no matter who you are, you
can be successful," said Boss, author of Green With Envy: A Whole New Way to
Look at Financial (Un)Happiness. "We see self-made people differently than those
with inherited wealth, which we see as not fair."
The self-made don't get off too easily, though, she said.
"If you inherited wealth, that's at least an explanation. But the more you
are like someone who 'made it,' the more it might bother you. Do we really want
to say he was smarter? We'd rather say he was lucky."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to phillip. firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his