The other day at the college I was waiting for an elevator (lift). It’s rather slow, but a sleet storm was heading in and I was especially achy. Just a few feet away was a bulletin board for a program the college runs, including a series of non-credit weekend classes for people with Down’s and other developmental or cognitive disabilities. One of the things thumbtacked to the board was a yellowing newspaper clipping. The photograph showed a young man busy in his kitchen, with his father standing nearby, watching him. The article began by mentioning how lucky the young man is because he has resources to help him learn to live independently, to get his own apartment, to get a job to support himself, and other important things.
He is lucky.
“Lucky” is one of those stock newspaper words that seems to be required in stories about disabled people. It’s right up there with “amazing”, “inspiring”, “challenged”, “journey” and a dozen other terms that I’m blanking on just from sheer nausea factor. (I’m sure you can think of several others.) I finished reading the story by the time the elevator moseyed up to the top floor. By the time I descended three levels, I had gathered up a fair bit of annoyance.
I am beginning to hate the word “lucky”. It is misleading. It conflates different meanings together and glosses over problems.
Although the young man is fortunate to have these opportunities, he did not get them by random chance. The job training, the job placement, the housekeeping skills, the acquisition of an apartment, all of these things were thought up, initiated and followed-through by numbers of people working together across town. Not only do these efforts require people to work directly with him, they require funding and personnel to coordinate and maintain such programs for others with similar needs.
Furthermore, if he is “lucky” to have these opportunities, then that is obliquely referring to the fact that his is an exceptional case. Although some of these supports are in place, they are haphazard, irregularly funded, inconsistently applied, and highly scattered in availability.
When media stories talk about how “lucky” someone is, there is frequently a heavy implication that the fortunate event happened through some kind of random chance. It is as though the newsworthy quality resides in the propitious combination of “deserving needy person” and “unexpected good fortune”. Some of it fulfills an inner child-like need for the universe to be fair and for good things to happen to those who need them.
But another, more important chunk of it is that it quietly absolves most of society from responsibility. Things just happened by luck. Some folks are just lucky, and others just aren’t. That’s just the way it is. (Maybe if you are sincere enough and use the right charms, you can be lucky, too!) I don’t believe in “luck”. Random chance permeates all existence, but there are no quasi-magical good or bad forces or dæmons of Luck.
But think about all this, about all the things that have taken place for these needs to have been fulfilled. People worked together to make this happen. They built new social structures, working against the cultural inertia and resistance from others’ prejudices. Those structures need to be maintained and enlarged. Many more people with similar difficulties need those supports, and do not have them. As noted by the mere existance of this “astounding” newspaper article, the young man is indeed fortunate to have been one of the few who has these services available.
Luck has nothing to do with it.