Gnomicon 223

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  223
Friday 21 December 2012
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The harder I work, the luckier I get.
Samuel Goldwyn (17 Aug 1874 – 31 Jan 1974)

This movie mogul, a founding father of ‘Hollywood’, founded the production company that eventually became M-G-M.  The names of the stars and stories that – starting in the teens of the last century — showed up on screen (and still do) under his aegis are household words today.  He had a reputation as an extremely ambitious  and indefatigable worker, and that apparently would seem to underpin the epigraph (whether intentionally so or because English was not his native language, many of the quotations attributed to him are quite hilarious):  personally I appreciate very much the recognition that luck is so essential in success, and that nothing – not good looks, not family connections, not education, not smarts — works as well!  In this he was like Napoleon, who once said, “I have plenty of clever generals.  Just give me a lucky one.”

In any event, not to take away from Goldwyn’s work ethic, but others have worked very hard and nonetheless in the end come a cropper.  He had a lot of luck, and he acknowledged it!  Again, I admire that.  I believe most people can look to critical junctures in their life when things could have gone one way instead of another, and their lives might have turned out a lot more (or less!) successful than is the case.  Yes, people may reasonably be proud of their achievements and all the good things material as well as intangible that are in their life, but to my way of thinking it is the arrogant narcissist who fails to appreciate that it was not entirely her own doing.  Some will speak of religion and deity in this connection, but for me it is strictly a matter of luck, or fate, a something that is out of one’s own control, a something that just happens.

And changes your life.

Earlier I have addressed this issue from a vantage familiar from ancient Greek literature – the workings of ‘luck’, of Τύχη Tyche (Fate, Chance).  The word derives from a more primitive sense of ‘hitting the mark’, as of an arrow shot at a target, and a more extended sense of ‘hit (upon), meet by chance, meet’.  It’s as though τύχη is something one just comes upon, unknown, unbidden, unexpected (for those wanting a great more on this etymology, check here s. τυγχάνω [requires reading knowledge of German]).  And that chance meeting has a profound effect on how the rest of your life unscrolls.  If one thinks about all of this in a metaphorical sense, I guess there is a realistic sense in which ‘luck’ is very much a matter of ‘hitting the mark’, however unplanned or serendipitously random it may be.  Indeed, although I posit no intended semantic relationship, isn’t it interesting that one of our modern expressions for that ancient one of ‘hitting the mark’ is ‘hitting it big’ – a phrase that I believe originates in the semantic domain of investing or gambling (a kind of investing, I suppose).  And in addition to ‘hitting the mark’ there is also ‘hitting bottom’!

Well, casinos and markets aside, just think for a minute about how much of what your life has turned into is a matter of sheer, dumb luck.

What if you hadn’t had that teacher in ninth grade who fired you up and set you on a voyage you had no idea at the time that you would be taking (cf. my ‘ninth grade’ teachers)?  Or gone to that college dance where you met ‘her’?  Or gotten that job in Iowa that lasted all your working life instead of in Alabama or wherever?  And so on and on in any countless numbers of combinatorial permutations of ‘hitting the mark’?

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