the lottery of birth
As I’ve mentioned already, at times I felt guilty too. It’s hard not to feel guilty when you’re staying at a hotel where the average room runs $618 a night — and meanwhile, half a mile from this posh palace, men and women are scratching to make ends meet.
On the road outside of Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum.
What is my moral obligation to these people? Do I have one? Should I feel guilty for spending money on tourism? Or, as our guides suggested, should I be comforted by the fact that I’m participating in a transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor? What productive ways can I help aside from just throwing money at the problem?
I don’t have answers to these questions.
Ultimately, however, I’ve realized that guilt is not productive. Guilt doesn’t accomplish anything. I can’t change who I am or the circumstances I’ve been born into. I’ve made the most of what I have: I’ve been lucky, and I’ve worked hard to build upon that luck. I can’t change this, and I can’t regret it.Instead, I feel like it’s my responsibility to do something with this hand that I’ve been dealt. Do what? I don’t know — and I’m not sure I need to know right now. As I travel, I’m becoming more aware of the world around me, and I feel like maybe there’s something I can contribute to make it a better place. I’m not sure what that something is, but I’m willing to be patient until I discover it.
I could have been born to any family, anywhere in the world, under any set of circumstances. I could have been any Indian girl - one of 600 million others.
But I wasn’t. I was born to incredibly intelligent and educated parents. Who had families that supported them and career choices that made them successful, in today’s terms. Who left the country of their past in hope of a country that could change their futures.
In Warren Buffett’s words, I (like most of you) have won the lottery of birth. It’s an incredibly humbling thought. As he describes it, if just before your birth you were put in front of a barrel containing 6.8 billion balls, and you pick one ball - one ball that would determine your gender, your birthplace, your parents - that determined the circumstances of your life. If you had that chance, would you put your ball back in hopes of something better?
I know I wouldn’t. That’s the hand that I’ve been dealt. All I can do now is give something back for it.