Lessons from A 75-Year-Old Story

On June 26, 1943, The New Yorker magazine published a story by Shirley Jackson called The Lottery. The story involves a small town with a tradition designed to ensure a good harvest. Blank slips of paper are prepared for each household in the community. On one slip of paper, there is a black dot. The people in the community gather for the drawing by the head of each household. The household receiving the black dot then goes through to a second drawing involving each member of the household, including children. The family member receiving the second black dot is then stoned to death in front of the entire community. The stoning is an annual tradition to ensure a good crop. As the proverb goes: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”

The New Yorker received more mail and phone calls for this story than any in its history up to that time. Just imagine how relevant this story is today. It’s hard to imagine how people could stand by and watch someone being stoned to death. But today, we seem comfortable with those who invoke mobs to take action against the very fabric of our society: decency, forgiveness, and acceptance.

We have evolved into a grievance society where it’s comfortable to find others to fault for our own malaise. While we may not throw stones at them, we find other ways to deny them a decent life.

We are comfortable in invoking memories from the past as justifications for the continuation of abuse, neglect, and denial of basic rights. It’s as if there is an unalterable belief that the wisdom from centuries ago still makes it relevant today.

We seem comfortable in rituals no matter how harmful they may be. This requires an unquestioning of the basis for those rituals. We seem to accept the concept of expiration dates on food but not how harmful past practices can be today.

Just imagine what it will take for society to abandon the concept of lottery thinking and move toward a new mindset of genuine humaneness.

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“Learn from today, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein

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