Probability and Life

i282600889609429173._szw1280h1280_We all know people who seem to have incredibly bad luck. Perhaps one of those people may even be you. We find ourselves wondering why this is so. How is it possible, we ask, that some among us lead seemingly charmed lives and others get pounded by fate over and over again? Is there really some cosmic karma that chooses unsuspecting souls for the worst possible situations? Aren’t the laws of probability supposed to work out in favor of distributing both the good and the bad? Why does God allow some to suffer while others appear to never have a care in the world? As humans we sometimes contemplate such things but never really understand what the true answers may be.

I read about two people who seem to have defied the odds when it comes to possessing bad luck. In fact their record might actually qualify them to be members of the unfortunate club known as jinxes. These two hale from Great Britain and love to travel together. On their first venture to New York City they decided to visit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on the very day and the exact moment that terrorists flew planes into the structures. They were able to escape relatively unharmed but the tragedy of that day left an indelible mark on their souls.

Later they were innocently traveling in the London tube when there was yet another terrorist attack that resulted in horrific numbers of death and destruction. Again they survived the incident and may have even been thought to be lucky in doing so but for a third incident that is almost unbelievable in its coincidence. Once again they journeyed abroad. This time they chose to visit Mumbai and they stayed in one of its finest hotels. Ironically on the very day that they were there terrorists stormed the hallways and the rooms killing dozens of innocent people. 

It seemed so strange that they would have been in the big middle of the action for three major terrorist attacks that they were investigated by police who wondered if they were perhaps somehow part of the plots. In the end they were found to be two innocents who by some strange twist of fate had found themselves in the eye of horrific situations on three separate occasions. Police wrote off their presence as mere coincidence and really bad luck. One wonders if they are in fact cursed in some way but the truth is that they are simply victims of the randomness of life.

The mathematics of probability deal in averages. The more trials that are taken, the more likely it is that the theoretical numbers begin to emerge. If we ask a single individual to flip a coin one hundred times it is unlikely that there will be a clean fifty heads and fifty tails split. That person may even come up with ninety nine heads and only one tail. If on the other hand we record the results of such an experiment with a sample of a million people the law of averages will even out the numbers of heads and tails to a fairly even fifty/fifty. The same is true of so called individual luck. Some people do in fact seem to have more bad luck than others but this is not the result of some targeted preference by a heavenly being but only of the randomness of the natural world. When we look at individual cases we cannot draw conclusions about why they encounter either the good life or one that is fraught with difficulties.

The randomness of who one’s parents are also comes into play. The genes that determine our bodily structures and general state of health are combined from the ancestral codes over which we have little control. When we are born we are already marked with tendencies to have high cholesterol or heart problems. The only way to combat such things is to control our diets, to exercise, to live healthy lives. Even then we are sometimes prisoners to fates that were predetermined from the way that we developed as fetuses. 

My mother-in-law was born with a heart defect. She fought to overcome the restrictions of her reality. She complied with every suggestion that might have extended her fragile life. As a result of her due diligence she lived far longer than any of her doctors predicted and yet by comparison to her peers she died rather young. During the time that she had here on earth she managed to live with such gusto that many looked upon her with jealousy, seeing her as a kind of golden girl. The truth is that her life was always quite hard. The reason that she appeared to be so lucky lay in the way she approached the many tragedies that befell her. 

When my mother-in-law was a small child she and her family were involved in a car accident that took her beloved grandfather. Her father died from a hunting accident in South Texas when he was still in his forties. Her mother was only in her early fifties when she died from ovarian cancer. My mother-in-law had lived for most of her life with the knowledge that her defective heart would one day claim her earlier than she would have wanted to leave this world. She literally risked her life to give birth to the one and only child that she would ever have. She made all of her difficult circumstances appear to be so easy because of her overriding optimism and her belief that God was walking beside her each and every day. Few who met her would ever have thought of her as a bad luck soul and yet her story seems to point to far greater challenges than most of us ever endure.

Nobody is ever completely exempt from the horrific vagaries of this world. Each of us must face trials, not of our own making. It is even true that some among us have more than their fair share of bad luck. The saving grace for those who like my mother-in-law manage to make lemonade out of lemons is usually the attitude with which we take on the worst days of our lives. We can’t always control what happens to us but we can change the way that we approach hardships. 

I tend to believe that it is good for the soul to rant and cry and complain about the crosses that we must bear but only for a limited amount of time. Then we must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and do whatever it is that we must do. It is lethal to attempt to compare ourselves with others. Therein lies the green eyed monster of jealousy because we will always find those who at least superficially appear to have much more lovely existences than our own. If we fall into the trap of believing that we are somehow unique in having to endure pain and sorrow we will surely become depressed and lose hope. If we instead understand that it is the natural fate of all mankind to experience dark and sorrowful moments we will be stronger and happier.

I also recommend what I think of as informal group therapy. It is toxic for us to attempt to carry our burdens all alone. We need to learn how to reach out to people who will show us the compassion and the help that we need when we are feeling overcome. There will always be good souls willing to assist us if only we seek them out. We may even be surprised by who they are and where we find them. They are the good people who will come to our aid if we make them aware that we need them to get over one of life’s barriers.

Each of us has a certain obligation to listen to the quiet voices among us who are crying for help. The sound of their pleas may be muffled and unclear but if we become astute at listening for them we will begin to hear their pleas. When we do it is up to us to reach out to them. There is really very little that we do in our overly busy lives that is as important as being a source of peace and hope for those who are in distress. 

Life is a series of random events, ups and downs, good days and bad. We all must learn how to best roll with the punches when things get almost unbearable but also to be sources of compassion for those who are in the midst of catastrophe. There will always be better days no matter what we may believe in the moment. They will be even brighter if someone takes our hand and walks with us.

We all know people who seem to have incredibly bad luck. Perhaps one of those people may even be you. We find ourselves wondering why this is so. How is it possible, we ask, that some among us lead seemingly charmed lives and others get pounded by fate over and over again? Is there really some cosmic karma that chooses unsuspecting souls for the worst possible situations? Aren’t the laws of probability supposed to work out in favor of distributing both the good and the bad? Why does God allow some to suffer while others appear to never have a care in the world? As humans we sometimes contemplate such things but never really understand what the true answers may be.

I read about two people who seem to have defied the odds when it comes to possessing bad luck. In fact their record might actually qualify them to be members of the unfortunate club known as jinxes. These two hale from Great Britain and love to travel together. On their first venture to New York City they decided to visit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on the very day and the exact moment that terrorists flew planes into the structures. They were able to escape relatively unharmed but the tragedy of that day left an indelible mark on their souls.

Later they were innocently traveling in the London tube when there was yet another terrorist attack that resulted in horrific numbers of death and destruction. Again they survived the incident and may have even been thought to be lucky in doing so but for a third incident that is almost unbelievable in its coincidence. Once again they journeyed abroad. This time they chose to visit Mumbai and they stayed in one of its finest hotels. Ironically on the very day that they were there terrorists stormed the hallways and the rooms killing dozens of innocent people. 

It seemed so strange that they would have been in the big middle of the action for three major terrorist attacks that they were investigated by police who wondered if they were perhaps somehow part of the plots. In the end they were found to be two innocents who by some strange twist of fate had found themselves in the eye of horrific situations on three separate occasions. Police wrote off their presence as mere coincidence and really bad luck. One wonders if they are in fact cursed in some way but the truth is that they are simply victims of the randomness of life.

The mathematics of probability deal in averages. The more trials that are taken, the more likely it is that the theoretical numbers begin to emerge. If we ask a single individual to flip a coin one hundred times it is unlikely that there will be a clean fifty heads and fifty tails split. That person may even come up with ninety nine heads and only one tail. If on the other hand we record the results of such an experiment with a sample of a million people the law of averages will even out the numbers of heads and tails to a fairly even fifty/fifty. The same is true of so called individual luck. Some people do in fact seem to have more bad luck than others but this is not the result of some targeted preference by a heavenly being but only of the randomness of the natural world. When we look at individual cases we cannot draw conclusions about why they encounter either the good life or one that is fraught with difficulties.

The randomness of who one’s parents are also comes into play. The genes that determine our bodily structures and general state of health are combined from the ancestral codes over which we have little control. When we are born we are already marked with tendencies to have high cholesterol or heart problems. The only way to combat such things is to control our diets, to exercise, to live healthy lives. Even then we are sometimes prisoners to fates that were predetermined from the way that we developed as fetuses. 

My mother-in-law was born with a heart defect. She fought to overcome the restrictions of her reality. She complied with every suggestion that might have extended her fragile life. As a result of her due diligence she lived far longer than any of her doctors predicted and yet by comparison to her peers she died rather young. During the time that she had here on earth she managed to live with such gusto that many looked upon her with jealousy, seeing her as a kind of golden girl. The truth is that her life was always quite hard. The reason that she appeared to be so lucky lay in the way she approached the many tragedies that befell her. 

When my mother-in-law was a small child she and her family were involved in a car accident that took her beloved grandfather. Her father died from a hunting accident in South Texas when he was still in his forties. Her mother was only in her early fifties when she died from ovarian cancer. My mother-in-law had lived for most of her life with the knowledge that her defective heart would one day claim her earlier than she would have wanted to leave this world. She literally risked her life to give birth to the one and only child that she would ever have. She made all of her difficult circumstances appear to be so easy because of her overriding optimism and her belief that God was walking beside her each and every day. Few who met her would ever have thought of her as a bad luck soul and yet her story seems to point to far greater challenges than most of us ever endure.

Nobody is ever completely exempt from the horrific vagaries of this world. Each of us must face trials, not of our own making. It is even true that some among us have more than their fair share of bad luck. The saving grace for those who like my mother-in-law manage to make lemonade out of lemons is usually the attitude with which we take on the worst days of our lives. We can’t always control what happens to us but we can change the way that we approach hardships. 

I tend to believe that it is good for the soul to rant and cry and complain about the crosses that we must bear but only for a limited amount of time. Then we must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and do whatever it is that we must do. It is lethal to attempt to compare ourselves with others. Therein lies the green eyed monster of jealousy because we will always find those who at least superficially appear to have much more lovely existences than our own. If we fall into the trap of believing that we are somehow unique in having to endure pain and sorrow we will surely become depressed and lose hope. If we instead understand that it is the natural fate of all mankind to experience dark and sorrowful moments we will be stronger and happier.

I also recommend what I think of as informal group therapy. It is toxic for us to attempt to carry our burdens all alone. We need to learn how to reach out to people who will show us the compassion and the help that we need when we are feeling overcome. There will always be good souls willing to assist us if only we seek them out. We may even be surprised by who they are and where we find them. They are the good people who will come to our aid if we make them aware that we need them to get over one of life’s barriers.

Each of us has a certain obligation to listen to the quiet voices among us who are crying for help. The sound of their pleas may be muffled and unclear but if we become astute at listening for them we will begin to hear their pleas. When we do it is up to us to reach out to them. There is really very little that we do in our overly busy lives that is as important as being a source of peace and hope for those who are in distress. 

Life is a series of random events, ups and downs, good days and bad. We all must learn how to best roll with the punches when things get almost unbearable but also to be sources of compassion for those who are in the midst of catastrophe. There will always be better days no matter what we may believe in the moment. They will be even brighter if someone takes our hand and walks with us.

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