Recently, I have been thinking about the concept and nature of luck. Throughout time there have been omens, signs and symbols that purport to predict or indicate good or bad luck.
Following are some common superstitions around luck:
If you break a looking-glass you will have seven years of bad luck.
If the palm of your right hand itches, money is coming to you. If your left hand itches, money will be leaving you.
If you see a shooting star, make a wish and it will come true.
If you find a four-leaf clover it is a sign of good luck.
If you can, don’t plan anything on Friday the 13th because if anything could go wrong, it will on this date.
Before considering my question about whether or not you’re lucky, it may be helpful to first consider a definition of luck that may have common agreement. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, luck is “the force that causes things, especially good things, to happen to you by chance and not as a result of your own efforts or abilities.”
Starting with the premise of good things happening—hence being lucky—do you think that being lucky is solely by chance, a proverbial roll of the dice? Or do you think that nothing happens serendipitously?
While enjoying a lovely dinner and an enviable view of Camelback Mountain at sunset with a dear friend, I asked my friend to tell me her thoughts on being lucky. Her cogent and assured response was impressive. As I listened, it seemed that the idea of being lucky was not something that she would ordinarily forward as the cause of good fortune. That became clear as she used three powerful terms to elucidate her idea of having good fortune: faith; surrender; and free will.
We were in complete agreement and harmony on the idea of faith or belief as a foundational requirement for positive outcomes. Having a strong faith is a touchstone of both of our lives. However, I needed to have her tell me more about what free will and surrender meant to her in responding to the question about being lucky. Though I dare not attempt to relay or summarize her ideas about free will and surrender, I was inspired to think about what these concepts meant to me in regard to luck.
As I continue to mull around with ideas about being lucky, I encounter big questions about the universe and our very existence. What I’m finding is that to live as a human, if we’re lucky—and though some of us may be uncomfortable with this kind of thinking—we will be open to conflating the ideas of logic, chance, serendipity, synchronicity with faith, free will, and surrender.
On Palm Sunday, April 2, 2023, I went to the Scottsdale Museum of the West to see a screening of the documentary film, Jews of the Wild West.
As I watched the film, I kept thinking about how the stories of Jewish people who immigrated to the United States and later to the Western United States appear to be missing from American history. The absence continues to be perpetuated in books and films today. A special thanks is owed to the nonprofit production company and to the filmmaker, Amanda Kinsey, for uncovering and sharing such a significant part of American history.
Notable Jewish migrants to the West are Levi Strauss, who we can thank for the jeans we wear; Isaac Shwayder, whose son, Jesse, founded the premier luggage line Samsonite; and Meyer Guggenheim, patriarch of the philanthropic Guggenheim family whose wealth came from the mining and smelting business. Women such as Golda Meir were also prominent in establishing a Jewish presence in the West. To say that these families had humble beginnings is an understatement.
They used their ingenuity, persistence, grit, and desire to make a life without persecution—one in which they not only survived the hardships of the frontier but thrived. They found that the Wild West had less antisemitism than New York City. In general, people who moved West had one thing on their minds: taking advantage of the riches the frontier would eventually offer.
The Jews who migrated West, for the most part, were not panning streams and mining for gold. They understood that people needed practical products and clothes as they pursued their dreams of a better life and their road to riches. The Jewish migrants may have started out as peddlers who made enough money to open a dry goods store as in the case of Shwayder. Eventually, they found markets within their communities and beyond that became their road to success. Because they were usually the only people in the community with a business, they often became the mayors of these frontier towns.
Co-written by Caryn McTighe Musil and Gwen Dungy, this post is inspired by Richard Oberacker’s lyrics from “Everything Happens” from the musical Bandstand.
Regardless of the outcomes of the midterms on November 8, for many it will be a catastrophe. Everyone will have their theories and ideas to explain why the results happened as they did. Some people will say there were not enough of this kind or that who voted, or a candidate’s campaign was the problem, or the election was stolen, or it was fate.
Any reason as to why/is a reason you supply.
Whatever our stand on the election, “It just happens/Everything happens.”
Once that result happens, then what do we do?
It is a fact….
And the only sane response is to adjust Not to wish it hadn’t happened When it must
The challenge to some of us who believe agency is a critical dimension of being a responsible citizen is that Oberacker’s lyrics at first glance seem to suggest no one can effect change. Or it doesn’t matter what you do. “Everything happens,” he writes, insinuating perhaps that we can only be passive recipients of what is whirling around us. But is that what his lyrics are saying?
He ends his song this way:
What matters when things happen Is what happens after.
It turns out that Oberacker is not giving away agency. Instead, he is asking us to exercise it. While you can’t change what has already happened, it takes agency—individual and collective– to influence what happens next. Regardless of whether you see the results as a catastrophe or not, it takes work to move forward in a positive direction or deny the negative impact of what we thought was a catastrophe. Instead of giving in to what happens, we are called to exercise action in response to it, whether in our favor or not.
Once the election results are in, we need to think about what happens. Now what? What will you do?
Caryn McTighe Musil is a Distinguished Fellow at the American Association of Colleges and Universities.
I’ve talked with people who after many years in a particular kind of work feel unsettled as if they are not doing the kind of work that fulfills their passion. Others I’ve had conversations with have changed the kind of work they do many times. They say that they get restless after the bloom of doing something different begins to fade.
Like those I’ve spoken with who wonder if there is something that they should be doing rather than what they are doing with their lives, I’ve had these thoughts. But for me, these thoughts have been fleeting. During my career journey, I took many of the assessments that purport to help career searchers begin to narrow their focus. Interpretations of my various assessment results showed a consistency in that whatever I chose for a career, I would be a “helper.”
I defined being a helper as someone who would provide support to others in reaching their goals and human potential. The question for me was how this might be realized in a specific career. Coming of age in the 1960s, I didn’t believe that the universe of options was open to me. Going into the medical field was my teenage dream. However, the reality of my financial situation made that dream unrealistic as a goal.
Being a teacher was one way that I could become a helper. However, it was a choice for which I settled rather than one for which I had a strong inclination. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was during these years that I thought I was settling that I found my passion. Teaching helped me realize that young people found it easy to relate to me and sought my counsel beyond the classroom. During these one-to-one sessions with students, I learned that many of them worked to the level that was expected of them rather than to the level of what they were capable of doing. They had more potential than they realized. Helping these students see beyond their current circumscribed existence brought me joy.
My sense of satisfaction in these relationships with students and their positive response to me confirmed for me that I was in the right place. Attaining a degree in counseling, I was prepared to be a helper. I found real congruence between who I imagined myself to be and who I could be in my career as a mental health and career counselor.
Even at this early stage of my journey, my touchstones of FIRE were part of my inner process:
I accepted the situation that I was in (fate).
I believed that I would be led to the right outcome (faith).
I focused on living a life infused with integrity.
I took initiative to get the required credentials to do what I wanted to do.
I was constantly reflecting on circumstances in a manner that I could glean lessons from my experiences.
I always tried to respect those with whom I interacted regardless of age and position.
I applied energy to achieve career goals and to carry out my responsibilities as a spouse and parent.
I freely expressed empathy for others, and I allowed myself empathy when it seemed that I had lost my way.
My hopeful wish for young professionals is that you will find the path that will lead you to your place of passion and fulfillment in your professional and personal life.
I was very pleased when Gwen asked me to write a piece on any subject that I wanted for her blog….
When I was younger, I thought life was basically random. I grew up in southern Illinois in Carmi, located on the Little Wabash River. The population was around 5,000 people.
Carmi was my dad’s hometown. He was born in 1914 and grew up attending a segregated school and the segregated Mitchell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. My mom met my dad when she came to Carmi to visit her uncle who lived in nearby Maunie. My parents married in 1943.
My mother had been born in 1919 and raised in Whiteville, in western Tennessee. She also attended segregated schools and was raised in the Bartlett Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church. The name was changed to Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 1954.
My brother Charles and I were both born in St. Louis, Missouri—he in 1944 and I in 1947. Our family moved back to Carmi in December 1947.
There were very few Black people in Carmi. Charles would integrate Washington School by going to the first grade at age 6. My mom took Charles to school on the first day. When she went back to pick him up, she said she met him already on the way home, happy and skipping down the street. After Charles passed away, several of his classmates wrote me that they remembered meeting him in the first grade.
Growing up, Charles was much more self-assured than I was. He excelled in math and science and played basketball. He was outgoing and everybody liked him. I was concerned with being nice and polite and modest. I liked reading and writing and English.
Our lives in Carmi were integrated in every way except for church. This was a time when most people went to church, which at that time was largely identified as mainline Protestant denominations. I do remember going to Vacation Bible School, concerts, and programs at the White churches, but on Sunday we went to Mitchell Chapel AME Church.
Mitchell Chapel was located a block off Main Street across the river in East Carmi. The church must have had a guardian angel, for in today’s world it would certainly be condemned as a fire and safety hazard. The church leaned to one side, there was only one entrance, and there was neither running water nor a bathroom. We had an old-fashioned coal stove and one of the men who lived across from the church would go early and make a fire when it was cold.
Not all of the Black people in Carmi attended the church, but they would come to funerals and also to fundraisers. There were probably 15 to 20 of us attending Sunday services, for which I remember getting dressed up and having new outfits for Christmas and Easter programs. We became part of a circuit with two other AME churches in Harrisburg and Carrier Mills, Illinois.
We were pioneers. My mother was the church recording secretary, and my dad was the lay reader and taught Sunday School. On Communion Sunday, we put up the white cloth around the altar and served communion with a chalice, using the silver communion set for the grape juice and wafers.
I remember the Sunday the minister “opened the doors of the church” and Charles walked forward to the altar to join. I followed him, joining the church because he did. Charles was in high school, and I was in junior high. Everybody cried.
We never invited any classmates to the church, and I am sure most people did not know the church existed because of the isolated location. When classmates asked where I went to church, I remember answering in a low voice and not with any pride. I do not remember any of the ministers as being special or giving outstanding sermons. We did not have a choir, but I do remember students from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale coming to sing.
In the late 1960s, Mitchell Chapel was allowed “to die” with the changing times. My family would be joyfully welcomed into the Carmi First United Methodist Church (FUMC). We had many friends at FUMC and would make new ones. My mom was especially happy and would become very involved in church activities.
When I graduated from Carmi Township High School in 1965, I did not have a plan beyond knowing that I would leave Carmi. I was encouraged and expected to leave by everybody including my parents and teachers. I moved to Champaign, Illinois, to stay with my aunt and attended Illinois Commercial College.
In Champaign, I attended Bethel AME Church. The church had a choir and a good minister, and I could get involved in activities of my own choosing. I knew a few people and made more friends. Most of all I knew the AME liturgy and songs having learned them at Mitchell Chapel AME. I became an usher and taught Sunday School briefly.
Charles was at Eastern Illinois University in nearby Charleston. He would come to Champaign on weekends and practiced teaching math at Champaign Central High School.
There were just a few Black students at the Commercial College. Just before graduation the man who was in charge at the school sent me to talk with the State Director at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farmers Home Administration State Office in downtown Champaign. He offered me a job and I accepted. I had just turned 19 years old. The office was small and convenient to where I lived, was with the federal government, and the employees were friendly and welcoming.
I would at times have challenges working with USDA but it was very beneficial to me overall. I worked with many smart and helpful supervisors and co-workers and made life-long friends. I felt rewarded and USDA enabled me to transfer from Champaign to St. Louis and Washington, DC. I received training, took business trips, and was able to retire after 41 years of service with a pension and health insurance.
When I moved to St. Louis, I joined Centenary United Methodist Church, which was part of the Plaza Square apartment complex where I lived downtown. Centenary was an elegant and historic church. I became a greeter and served on the church board for a year and participated with other programs and activities.
Charles and Gwen had met in college at Eastern, and married in 1967, when I was 20. They now lived not too far from me in suburban St. Louis with their young son Dan, but would later move to the Washington, DC, area. When an opportunity and encouragement came for me to also move to DC three years after they did, I wanted to move but also felt uncertain about doing so.
It would have been easy to stay in St. Louis. The move would take me away from the Midwest and my family, but I also knew I could easily fly home for vacations. DC was expensive and I wondered if I would be able to find an apartment and live in a safe and nice part of the city. I prayed and knew I wanted the transfer. I found a nice and very small apartment in a pleasant part of the city with the help of a friend. Being on the bus route and convenient to the Metro, it was a short commute downtown to work.
I had read about Metropolitan AME Church before I moved to Washington. The church was convenient to where I lived. It was a beautiful and historic church with a storied history and prominent members. Walking in the church, you feel the ancestors. I would come to understand that the AME Church, which was founded in Philadelphia in 1816 by Richard Allen, was about so much more than just segregation. I joined the church and became involved in many activities including ushering, the Love and Peace Missionary Society, the food bank, and serving as a chaplain for a seniors’ club. I took my co-workers to the church on weekdays when the seniors prepared a soul-food lunch.
I came to feel I was following God’s plan for me, which had always been there from the beginning. I would never have joined Metropolitan AME if I had not been raised in Mitchell Chapel AME Church in Carmi.
Watching the Communion Sunday church service online during Covid, I would use the Mitchell Chapel chalice my mom had given me before she passed and really feel the connection between the two churches.
I had been in Washington for 12 years and Metropolitan AME was going through changes. I was ready for a change also. The Washington National Cathedral was close to where I lived in northwest Washington. I had visited and toured the Cathedral and was awed by the beauty and peacefulness of the church and the grounds.
I liked the idea of the Nation’s Church which welcomed everybody. I did not expect to become a Cathedral volunteer or think it was even possible for me. I was not an Episcopalian. I made friends and met with the volunteer coordinator to find my place. I could volunteer at the Cathedral and still keep my membership and participation at Metropolitan AME. I would start as a greeter and become an usher, a lay reader, and volunteer in the gift shop.
My last time with Charles a week before he passed away would be attending a Sunday morning service in the Cathedral. Most people did not know Charles was seriously ill. When he passed away from a rare disease, I wondered why it had been him instead of me. At the end of the play Hamilton, there is a song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” I felt I survived to tell Charles’ story. I was the only connection to Carmi and our classmates.
I belong to a grief support group and recently we discussed how we would like to be remembered. I would like to be remembered as a Christian hopefully for kindness and outreach and inclusiveness and for understanding and forgiveness for myself and others. I feel blessed for the ways in which God has led, and I pray he will continue to guide me along my journey.
An artist and a software developer have teased out the frequencies and infrequencies of single words in the King James Bible by rearranging the entire book in alphabetical order.
If you think single words matter, reviewing the data from the alphabetized King James Bible—or BIBLE THE as they’ve titled it—could have an impact on your sense of the “Good Book”:
Data suggests that the Bible skews towards a positive bias. For example, ‘good’ is used 720 times, ‘bad’ only 18. ‘Love’ is used 308 times and ‘hate’ 87 times. And ‘happy’ less so, at 28 times, but still over twice as much as the 11 uses of ‘sad’.
‘Right’ features 358 times, ‘wrong’ just 26. ‘Light’ features 272 times, ‘dark’ only 43. ‘Pleasure’ 61 times, ‘pain’ 25.
And ‘life’ 451 times, still more than the 371 instances of ‘death’. This positive trait also translates into Biblical subject matter. For example, ‘heaven’ features 582 times, whereas ‘hell’ only 54. There are 94 ‘angels’ to 55 ‘devils’, 96 ‘saints’ to 48 ‘sinners’, and 302 ‘blessed’ to a mere 3 ‘damned’, and a total of 27 ‘miracles’.
On the other hand, there are 1,394 instances of ’no’, whilst the word ‘yes’ only appears 4 times in the entire Bible. There are 269 “enemies” to 49 “friends”, 8 ‘liars’ and 51 ‘lies’. 150 ‘heathens’, 63 ‘judged’, and 26 ‘guilty’, with 37 ‘crucified’, 30 ‘hanged’, and 71 ‘defiled’.
Unsurprisingly, there is no ‘sex’ or ‘intercourse’ in the Bible, but there are 17 ‘concubines’, 9 ‘adulterers’, 8 ‘harlots’, 4 ‘sodomites’, 3 instances of ‘copulation’, 3 instances of ‘conception”, 2 ‘whores’, and 1 ‘prostitute’.
Socio-economically, there are twice as many ‘givers’ as ‘takers’ – 93 ‘poor’ and 81 ‘rich’, 77 ‘rulers’, 237 ‘prophets’, 30 ‘nobles’, 480 ‘servants’, 400 ‘priests’, 30 ‘soldiers’, 17 ‘publicans’, 27 ‘workers’, 5 ‘lawyers’, 9 ‘carpenters’, 1 ‘fishermen’, 6 ‘lepers’, 3 ‘beggars’, and 1 ‘slave’.
In terms of diversity, ‘white’ dominates by about 4:1, featuring 75 times, with ‘black’ just 18 times. But the Bible does appear to feature a diverse cast: 256 ‘Jews’, 254 ‘Philistines’, 98 ‘Egyptians’, 61 ‘Syrians’, 14 ‘Greeks’, 10 ‘Cushi’ (North Africans), 10 ‘Assyrians’, 7 ‘Romans’, 7 ‘Samaritans’, 5 ‘Persians’, 4 ‘Babylonians’, 2 ‘Libyans’, 2 ‘Christians’, a single ‘Arab’, and an equal amount of ‘believers’ and ‘infidels’.
Gender-wise, the data suggests that the Bible is overwhelmingly biased towards males. At its most extreme, the Bible has 8,472 instances of the word ‘his’ and only a mere 3 instances of ‘hers’. And while this gender bias persists across the male–female divide, for the most part it is less pronounced. There are 1,653 references to ‘men’ and only 181 to ‘women’. ‘He’ is used 10,404 times, ‘she’ only 982. ‘Him’ 6,659 times to 1,994 uses of ‘her’. This bias extends beyond pronouns, to other gender specific identifiers: only 252 ‘daughters’ to 1,094 ‘sons’, only 8 ‘mothers’ to 548 ‘fathers’, only 4 uses of the term ‘lady’ to 7,830 uses of the term ‘lord’, 3 ‘queens’ to 340 ‘kings’, and just 5 uses of ‘goddess’ to 4,440 uses of ‘god’. (collater.al/en/bible-the-sideline-collective-book-design)
It is important to acknowledge that most people believe the Bible was written by men almost 2,000 years ago, with the translation into what we know as the King James Version happening a millennia after that. Although the biases of the writers, scribes, and translators are most likely unconscious and cultural, their words speak for themselves. So does the data.*
What prompted me to share this information was the power of single words to create propaganda, to describe values, and to create ideological foundations.
Words such as ‘democracy’ and ‘authoritarianism’ are signals, maps, and guideposts that have both a subtle and bold imprint on how we think, feel, and act. Words have power even when there is no context or stream of words that suggest meaning. Beware of words.
*And both need contextualization as, for instance, simply counting ‘no’s against the positive bias does not account for usage such as “no more pain,” “no more sorrow,” “no more tears.” This only undergirds the point, however, of the power and potential danger of single words…
I must wean myself from reading opinion pieces about the 2022 midterms and the national election in 2024. I think there is too much being written and talked about outlining the perils the Democratic party faces. Democrats are even giving interviews disparaging their own party when they know that there are so many circumstances that could not be avoided or remedied regardless of what party had the majority in Congress or was in the White House.
I was chatting with a colleague who said that “lack of optimism was killing us, and losing faith keeps us from investing in the moment.”
Although there is an abundance of pessimism and resignation about the outcomes of the upcoming elections, I felt hopeful when I heard the dynamic speech that Michigan Democratic State Senator Mallory McMorrow made a couple of weeks ago. I think that if more Democrats would fight fearlessly with words of outrage against blatant attempts to limit and roll back freedoms for all people, supporters would be animated to vote against the scourge of hate that is infecting not only the United States but countries all around the world.
McMorrow’s speech energized me. It was not just what she said. It was that I believed her.
By title and official authority, you’re the leader of the group. You work hard to carry out your responsibilities and you show respect to every member of the team.
You knew from the beginning that in this very hierarchical environment there was one person who, though below you on the organizational chart, would hold more sway or influence than you. You puzzled why this person had not gone for the position for which you now held because their desire for power and influence was apparent.
Nevertheless, this person who technically held the subordinate position to you also had authority over a segment of the population and had the ability to make work life comfortable or uncomfortable for a sizable number of people. They had an uncanny knack for influencing others to like or dislike who or what they deemed worthy or unworthy based solely on their personal sense of justice and fairness.
You refer to the person just described as Judge Everybody.
You worked with some of your team members to plan the annual retreat. There were to be serious and fun exercises, good snacks, and a very special lunch. It was during the lunch that the “real leader” of the group was publicly anointed.
During the exercises, Merry Merry, a charismatic sycophant, gleefully insisted that Judge Everybody be the leader for every activity. Others gave you side-eye glances to see how you were reacting to this enthusiastic robing of Judge Everybody.
It was during the lunch that Merry Merry made a proclamation that Judge Everybody was the “REAL Leader.” Merry Merry, who was your friend when not in the company of Judge Everybody, would not make eye contact with you.
At the time when all were to be seated for this special lunch, it appeared that your team was waiting to see where Judge Everybody would sit before finding a seat as close to Judge Everybody as possible. You deliberately left seats between you and Judge Everybody in order to give more space for those who wanted a closer seat to better inhale the aura of Judge Everybody. A couple of brave souls sat near you. You think to yourself, is my faith strong enough to get me through this gauntlet of disrespect and humiliation?
Fortunately, you have become an expert at compartmentalizing. You use this defense mechanism to put the feelings of humiliation in a box for later reflection. You know that you become impervious to slights by immersing yourself in work. Work is your refuge. It helps you trick your mind into denying reality by reframing the experience with a palatable interpretation.
You know that you’re not the only one who has struggled to hold strong in such an environment. You understand that designated leaders who have reluctant followers have to separate and insulate themselves mentally and emotionally by compartmentalizing. You accept that though you hold fast, wounds of humiliation never heal. They are merely rationalized and compartmentalized.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: As part of my personal motto, represented by the acronym FIRE, I make a habit of reflecting on experiences and what can be learned from them. I have used my journals over the years to do just that in the process of writing. It is my hope that sharing these reflections through this BLOG may have some value for others, but please note that I intend for people who I do not specifically name to remain anonymous to readers. For the record, this blog post is not about NASPA or anyone I worked with at NASPA.
If you were asked to describe yourself—regardless of the circumstances or situations—as generally optimistic or pessimistic, what would be your honest assessment? Would your personal emoji be the upturned or downturned smile? When you’re shown the glass with water, is it half full or half empty?
Asked if she was an optimist, Stacey Abrams, responded, “No I’m an amelliorist which is something I made up. I believe that the glass is half full. It’s just probably poisoned. And so my job is always to be on the hunt for the antidote” (“The Story Behind Stacey Abrams’s Fiction Career,” The Atlantic, June 2021).
The idea of being an amelliorist has stuck with me. Would an amelliorist be…
one who, in spite of having been betrayed, dares to trust again?
one who has seen and experienced injustice and in spite of it continues to fight for justice?
one who sees that nothing has changed and in spite of it continues to hope that things will change?
one who exhibits a spiritual strength that inspires and unites in spiteof the emotional toll?
one who, in spite of having one’s own hopes dashed, shares a sense of hopefulness with and for others?
one who finds something to learn in spite of the worst of circumstances?
Am I an amelliorist? The mnemonic FIRE that defines my life’s values begins with two words for the letter “F.” Faith and Fate.
Fate has caused me to experience situations that I would rather have avoided, and in spite of it, I have had faith that I will get to the other side of whatever uncomfortable circumstance I’m currently experiencing. Fate makes me understand that life is a crapshoot; sometimes I get the poisoned water but, through my faith, magical thinking, or divine intervention, I’m not thirsty and don’t have to drink the poisoned water.
Or fate has found me in a situation where quenching my thirst with this particular half glass of water is my only option for survival. In spite of the threat of death, I drink the poisoned water and because of my faith, the poison has no negative effect on me.
As one calendar year ends and another begins for optimists and pessimists (and amelliorists) alike, perhaps this is the optimum time to be mindful of our individual and collective efforts to search for a synthesis of our optimistic and pessimistic selves in order to discover and maintain the equilibrium necessary for us to find meaning and purpose in our lives in spite of external circumstances over which we have no control.