Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Birth Lottery

Congratulations! You have won the lottery!

Don't worry, this is not a communication from Africa which will require you to provide me with your checking account information. And not one of those lotteries where you win a chance to win something if you spend a few thousand dollars. You have actually won.

I read two magazines on a regular basis. The Smithsonian and National Geographic. This months' Geographic is devoted exclusively to Water. I would recommend reading any issue of either magazine but if you have access to a paper copy or would want to read it online, spend some time on the April Geographic.

As presented by the issue, think about these numbers:

46% of the homes in the world do not have water access inside the home

900 million people on earth do not have access to clean water

2.5 billion people on earth have no way to dispose of human waste safely

3.3 million people, mostly children, die each year due to the effects of dirty water, the lack of a toilet and proper hygiene

In places where potable water is not as easy as turning on the faucet or stopping at the local supermarket for a bottle of water, the job of fetching water (and not necessarily drinkable water) falls almost exclusively on woman. This point was illustrated by the writer who spent a morning with a woman who lives in Ethiopia. She spends hours each and every day walking miles to the nearest source of water. While she is away, her four year old son babysits his two younger siblings.

So, what exactly did these people do to deserve being were born into societies that are without clean water? Conversely, what did you and I do to earn birth into today's America? I am not sure where I first heard the phrase but the answer is that we won the birth lottery and they did not. The consciousness that is you was born into the body that you see in the mirror everyday, not because you did something special in your pre-birth years, not because your parents prayed for you in particular (although I am sure most of them are glad that "you" arrived). Not because god loves you more than anyone else (because if you go that route then does that mean that god does not love at all the people that are born into such difficult lives) but only because you won the birth lottery. And you think you never win anything!

So, what is the point of this blog? To make you feel guilty about your winnings? No, everything is relative and even knowing these facts doesn't make it much easier to deal with our own problems. Besides, I a firm believer that guilt is a waste of time.

Is it to encourage you to give up the material trappings of our modern age and go to the slums of the third world to help the poor? No, people like Mother Theresa were special precisely because they are unique. Hopefully, your sense of humanity will move you to help those less fortunate than you in your own way.

Is it a socialist plot to force you to hate all rich people who have the resources and could actually make a difference? No, despite my belief that the income inequity that has grown within this country and without in the last 30 years is a major problem, I respect people who are able to excel in any endeavor. I never had the gumption to start a business and risk it all so I try to limit my disparagements to the wanton excess of the rich not the ambition that made them successful.

No, the point is to get you to think about the randomness of life. Pure and simple, you have been given a special opportunity that you didn't earn. But it is an opportunity that you can prove worthy of. Make the most of it. But rather than pursuing material gains, pursuing wealth, perhaps we should focus individually and collectively on creating a day when the losers of the birth lottery have clean water and access to proper human waste disposal. Or can spend their day growing food, or taking care of their children instead of hiking miles on end to scoop out some water from a muddy puddle. After all, perhaps today's winners of the birth lottery are tomorrow's losers.

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