For all its difficulties, this year has been, on balance, a pretty good one for me. A lot of it is carry over from years past: a home I share with my amazing partner and our cats, a good job at an institution whose mission I value, friends, family, a wonderful community of freethinkers, and so on. 2012 brought some new developments as well, such as the success of the F3 conference1 and a renewed focus on writing fiction2. I have a lot to be thankful for this year. And I am. I feel very fortunate.
As a freethinker, though, can I call myself “lucky”?
Some days, I do want to be lexically lazy and use words like “fortunate,” “lucky,” even “blessed.” But given that I don’t believe in the goddess Fortune or any other supernatural being with a plan for or a whim aimed at my life, it’s a bit dishonest for me to do so.
Much of what I have accomplished and received in my life is, admittedly, not entirely my own doing. A few examples: My parents expected me to go to college and with their help and with the help of scholarships, I was able to do so. A good education provided me with the skills and knowledge to get the jobs I’ve had. Isn’t that a form of luck? And those who have helped me along the way, sometimes over what have seemed, at the time, to be insurmountable obstacles, have been, I’d be tempted to call “angels.”3
The choice here is whether to keep using the words or to find some alternative that expresses roughly the idea that given circumstances not under my control, things are going relatively well. I’m etymologically-aware4 enough that I’d prefer the latter. Successful attempts at changing the language, such as Greta Christina’s choice of “cheering to the pep squad” over “preaching to the choir”5, are positive steps for the freethought movement. What alternative could we use for “lucky”, though?
At the root of fortune is chance. I’m okay with the concept of chance as it relates to probability. And luck is etymologically related to chance, so it’s okay too. So, how about a compromise? I can be a fortunate, lucky person6, not because of Luck or Fortune, but because I happened to be born when and where I was born, etc. Blessed? Given that it relates to a state of holiness, maybe we should toss that one. But fortunate and lucky are good. I’m curious about other freethinkers’ ideas on this. Thoughts?
1. Links to the videos are here7.
2. If only I could believe in the supernatural. What does one need to leave under her pillow to request a visit from the Revision Fairy? A box of French Madeleines? Wait, no. Biscotti, right?
3. The helpful, Americanized version of angels. Not the sword-wielding, vengeful kind. Though they might have been helpful at other times….
4. But humble enough to admit that I’m probably severely guilty of using all sorts of words and phrases that work against my world view, while not realizing it. You, dear reader, have been hereby granted permission to wield a rolled-up newspaper at my words, should you find such an example.
5. “Preaching to the choir” is complicated for me anyway. As a high school and college student who had long since lost faith, I played in church orchestras and sang in church choirs. The music was fun, though I’m in full agreement with Tim Minchin’s lyric from “White Wine in the Sun”: “Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords but the lyrics are dodgy.” See? Back to words again.
6. Even though I can’t be with family this year, I’m lucky to spend this evening with friends.
7. I’ll revisit the F3 2012 videos in upcoming blog posts. Yes, I just footnoted a footnote….