Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons

There's a sort of obscure Kathy Bates movie from about 10 years ago - and I can't for the life of me remember the title or find it on imdb - but, anyway, she plays this suuuper cynical character. And at one point in the movie, an overzealous guy says to her, "Just remember, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" To which she replies, "What about when life gives you a pile of shit?" Great scene - I wish I could give you more details on the movie.

Anyway, Jonathan and I decided to play the board game Life last night after dinner. On first spin, we both decided to "go to college," taking out $100,000 each in loans. His career was something to do with technology, which had an accompanying salary of $90,000. My career, on the other hand, was "Entertainer," with an unfortunate $20,000 salary card.

I guess Jonathan had lucky hands with the spinner, because these initial salary differences basically set up the general trajectory of the game. Jonathan would "Win a contest - collect $50,000!" and I would "Pay $20,000 if your car isn't insured." Well, I couldn't afford insurance because I only made $20,000! He lived in a beautiful Tudor home; and I had to buy a house on a fault line that was split down the middle. At one point, I thought my luck was changing when I landed on "trade salary cards with any player." About 3 spins later though, I had a "mid-life career change" and had to choose a new profession & salary. New profession: accountant; new salary: $20,000. Bummer. Jonathan got to retire in Millionaire Estates, and I was at Countryside Acres. Wah, Waaaaaaaah.

Now I don't want to get all philosophical about a board game. But... Come on, the game is called "Life" - Milton Bradley is just egging us on to dig deeper!

I can think of a ton of different questions inspired by our "lives" in the game, but here's what I'm going to tackle: are some people just plain "luckier" than other people; or is "luck" just knowing how to make the best of a situation (like, when life gives someone lemons, they make lemonade vs. when life gives someone lemons, they interpret it as an unusable "pile of shit")? What do you guys think?


My first inclination is to lean toward option two (that you make life situations what you want them to be). But, I realize viewing life like that is incredibly middle/upper class-centric.

If a baby boy is born to a drug-addict who lives in the projects, I think he's going to have a very hard time doing something productive with his life. BUT - he could; he could work really hard in school, dodge gang membership, remain unharmed throughout his childhood, develop a strong work ethic, get funding to go to college, and then have a successful career. But that's a lot of "he coulds..." When the reality is probably: poor adult supervision/involvement, sub-par education, lack of positive role models, negative peer pressure, unsafe living environments, etc. Is this kid just unlucky for being born into his life? Or if he doesn't "make the most of life," is he just unwilling to make lemonade out of a lemon/huge pile of shit?

But then it goes the other way, too. Am I just lucky because I was born to the parents I was born to, and thus got: positive role models, good education, good friends, safety, etc.? Because I definitley made some decisions that impacted my positive outcome that could have gone the other way. For example, really bad 11th grade math teacher (lemon), so I got a math tudor to be able to make a good grade (making lemonade); 4th grade class with lots of "bad" girls in it (lemon, potentially bad lemon), so I was nice with them that year, but then made new friends the next (making lemonade).

All I can say, though, is that luck was very alive and active in our game last night. I just couldn't get a break: I'd have a good positive roll, and the very next one would throw me back down. By the end of the game, I was defeated (literally & figuratively). Imagine the people whose lives are actually like this - how could you stay determined to succeed, when day after day you're thrown back down to where you started?

(And I should say that because the board game inspired this post, I'm thinking about life in the broad way the game does - like, the stereotypical path of: college, marriage, home ownership, children, middle age, retirement. Fortunately for the targeted children playing this light-hearted game, there aren't squares like "Your parent dies in a car accident!" or "You get cancer!" or "Your child is autistic!" or "You cheated on your wife and now your divorce is long and messy!" We're generalizing here, people.)

But what do you guys think? Luck or perspective?


Sarah said...

Have to go with both. I often thought the girl I mentored Dionna, who had been dealt "a pile of shit" could have been me in her situation. She was smart, but talked too much in class, had a small problem with authority and didn't have anyone who was really making sure she did her homework. She was failing almost all of her classes. I had many of the exact same problems but managed to get all A's through most of middle school. Hard to say my perspective and work ethic at that age were the reason why I outperformed her.

b|rad said...

It's connected to the whole notion of the "american dream." but the very concept of the "american dream" only exists as a way for folks to justify the "pile of shit." in essence, you made your bed, now lie in it and if you wanted to change, you could and you too could achieve the american dream. all a bunch of crap. because at the end of the day, you got a tutor in 4th grade because you a) financially could and b) probably had no choice because you had parents who valued education and c) knew about the existence of tutors! Our parents worked hard, they valued education, they provided for us and ensured we could focus on school and in a way, they provide a cushion for us in the event life throws us a tragic hand. But for others, it's a cycle of have not. And when you "have not" all the time, I don't really know how you're supposed to break into the "have" community. Especially with no support.

LB said...

Can I throw the God card in here anywhere?

Also, I didn't realize Life (the game) was so.... weirdly practical? And stereotypical? It also doesn't sound fun AT ALL. Was it?

Jackie said...
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Jackie said...

really insightful, guys. i'm glad you brought up the crappy "american dream," brad. i've been thinking about it a lot lately (prompted by an npr thing about the time in history when buying a house became the dream everyone wanted & believed they could have in america - when in actuality, some people just can't afford to own a house). i've actually been sort of wishing, lately, that i'd spent a large amount of time in an industrialized foreign country (so not like jungle congo africa) where this "dream" doesn't exist - just to see what'd it be like - and what unifying notion they are seeking (since it seems that modern people HAVE to seek something).

sare - i forgot about dionna! do you ever hear anything about her now?

LB - i know you're super busy - but i'd love to know what you mean by "the God card." or moreover, where you place God in this equation? do you mean it like predestination - do you think poor people were "predestined" to be poor? or do you mean it like blessings - rich people are more blessed than poor people? because it's sort of a tough road to take - since the rich aren't definitively more righteous than the poor (thus deserving of more blessings).