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There, but for the grace
January 22, 2014, 05:00 AM By Dorothy Dimitre

“It’s better to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding.” — Kahlil Gibran.

I just have to do it! I have to repeat part of a column that I originally wrote around 30 years ago for the Millbrae Sun and have referred to before. This is in response to a letter to the editor in this newspaper Jan. 15 that ridiculed the writer of a letter that had appeared a few days earlier who was concerned about how government budget cuts would negatively impact many children in this country. He even listed 10 “simple questions” to back up his beliefs.

How sad that there are some people in this country with no humility or empathy for the plight of others who haven’t had it so good. And it’s that ultraconservative, self-obsessed attitude that “I’ve got mine and to hell with anyone else” that has the potential to turn this country into a third-world type nation.

So to the column! When he was a teenager, my older son and I would get into long discussions about a variety of topics. One of the issues we’d return to was: If a person does well in life, is it because he/she has consciously taken upon his/her self to succeed or is it just plain luck? He would state: “People who are down and out brought it upon themselves.” Or, “If a person really wants to, he can be whatever he wants to be.” You’d have thought he was a Republican or one of those fundamentalists glued to the Puritan ethic. He said he learned that in his American history class.

Many idealistic young people like to think that their fortunes are all their own doing. But I’m not sure what the excuse is for a remark the mother of a friend of mine made years ago. This one-of-a kind, well-to-do woman apparently had no concept of how “the other half” lived. When hearing of the plight of those living in poverty, she once said, in all seriousness: “Well, I don’t see why they can’t live off of the dividends of their investments.”

As for my son, I kept trying to convince him that anyone who is not in a distressful state is just lucky. First, they were lucky to be born to whom they were and to live where they lived. They were also lucky to be born with reasonable (if not superior) intellect and in good physical condition. They were lucky to have parents who provided them with adequate food, shelter, education, caring, love, etc. and fortunate that they remained well in body, mind and spirit. Even perseverance and stamina are not just aspects of will. 

“Remember,” I would tell my son, “your good fortune, whether that you were born healthy to parents who cared well for you (and made good investments) or that your inborn talents gave you an advantage, or that opportunities for learning and growth came along at the right time and you happened to make some good decisions has not been because you’re particularly wonderful or that you especially deserve it. You could just as well been dealt a different hand.”

The reason I’ve gone into this topic is because by realizing such factors, it is much easier to understand the plight of those who do not do so well in life. It makes us more willing to share some of our bounty with others whose luck hasn’t been as good. It also prompts us to be thankful for our good fortune. Instead of feeling superior and entitled, we feel humble and grateful.

If life has been good to you, if the ups have overcome the downs, remember that you can make a difference in someone else’s luck. Financially, emotionally, and/or spiritually helping those in need may determine whether they can muster up enough hope and energy to move out of their dilemma instead of falling farther behind.

Older son turned 56 Jan. 20. He has learned a lot in these approximately 40 years — one thing being that luck has a lot to do with success or failure in life. When a rare chance presents itself, we still have our discussions, but they are usually about politics, and since he’s now a lawyer, these sessions can become very interesting.

In writing of the Republican drive to block the resumption of long-term unemployment benefits, columnist Eugene Robinson, on Jan. 15, described many of the people in such need: “These are people who have been buffeted by forces beyond their control — the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, globalization and outsourcing, irrational federal spending cuts. Isn’t it in society’s interest to give them a chance?”

Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 700 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is



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