On Tuesday of last week, the temperature was 102 degrees in Phoenix. While hot, I didn’t mind it too much. My home is air-conditioned. When I need to go somewhere, the Max A/C in my Honda Accord cools me down seemingly within seconds.
For lunch that day, I had a taco salad. The lettuce was purchased through our local timeshare, the meat had been bought from the grocery store and cooked the night before. I warmed up the meat in my microwave, but chopped the onion, jalapeño, and olives fresh.
Lunch was good—and filling. I even skipped the cookie afterwards.
I did decide to brew myself a cup of coffee that afternoon. I used Gevalia House Blend (it is one of my favorites) and added a small shot of Coffeemate Caramel Macchiato creamer—just enough to take the edge off and sweeten the cup for the afternoon.
With my coffee, I sat down with my laptop at my dining room table to do some work for the afternoon. I placed my cell phone facedown on the table and decided to open Facebook first.
Near the top of my Newsfeed was an article from the New York Times: So Similar, So Different. The tagline caught my attention, “For these 2 women, the lottery of birth decides opportunity.”
I was intrigued. I clicked over to the New York Times website completely unprepared for the emotion that would accompany my reading of the story.
You are welcome to go read the article. I highly recommend it before continuing with this post. But if you don’t have the time, here’s a short synopsis:
Journalist Nicholas Kristof writes about an encounter last month where he was accompanied on a visit to Myanmar with a 20-year old college student from Notre Dame named Nicole Sganga. Upon arriving at a remote village, Nicholas and Nicole met a 20-year old woman named Sajan. The parallels between the two women immediately attracted them to one another: same age, same gender, both bright, hard-working, and fun-loving.
And yet, the differences were overwhelming. Nicole is from a middle-class family in Long Island, being educated in journalism, and doesn’t plan to start her family until ago 30. Sajan dropped out of school at age 10 when her father died, was traded for marriage at age 13, raises 2 children, has no electricity, shoes, or sandals, and can only leave home with her husband’s permission.
Two young women, born at almost the same time, both with talent and dreams, both seizing opportunities, yet only one in a context in which her abilities can come fully into play.
Talent is universal, but opportunity is not. May those of us who have been given opportunity refuse to waste it. (tweet that)
As I considered my own life in light of this story, I was reminded of the great opportunity I have been afforded. By the simple, uncontrollable nature of my birth, I have been given enviable gifts: shelter, clothing, food, clean water… shoes. These are simple necessities that many human beings around the world will go without. I grew up in a safe, middle-class neighborhood with public schools and parks and rec departments. I did nothing to earn this opportunity—it was granted to me solely by the lottery of my birth.
And yet, how often do I take it all for granted? Nicholas Kristof’s piece caused me to become further aware of the responsibility associated with the opportunity I have been given—and convicted at how often I squander it.
Your life is different than mine. But I encourage you today to consider the blessing of the opportunity you have been afforded. And determine to make the most of your opportunity.
Be grateful. Those of us who have been given opportunity should be grateful daily. Too often, we think about all the things we don’t have instead of the wonderful things we already possess. Consider again the story of Sajan—and sense your responsibility to be grateful for the life and the chances you have been given.
Be diligent. There is great responsibility that accompanies our opportunity. Our most important response is to make wise and diligent use of it. Work hard. Study hard. Everyday.
Do not overvalue comfort. There is a natural inclination in each of us to avoid pain at all costs. But only through trials in life do we develop patience and perseverance and maturity. Those who have seemingly been given opportunity to avoid pain and discomfort must be careful to not value comfort over growth.
Own less. Our unearned gift of opportunity ought to give us pause in our consumerist pursuits. Sure, we studied hard in school and worked hard to develop our skills in order to earn the type of living we can now afford. But are bigger houses, faster cars, trendier fashion, and cooler toys really the greatest use of our money? Especially when there are so many people in our world with equal drive and talent, but without opportunity.
Remember others. One danger among those who have opportunity is to forget those who do not. And whether we are talking about inequality in America or around the world, one of our ongoing responsibilities is to remind ourselves that injustice still exists.
Create opportunity. With your time, your talents, and your dollars. Find trustworthy organizations that are working to solve these problems at home, overseas, and for future generations. Get involved financially by contributing from your excess. I am a fan of both Compassion and Heartwork (both are working hard to provide opportunity to kids in developing countries), but there are countless others.
Opportunity is not universal. May those of us who receive it, appreciate the great responsibility that accompanies it.