Lately, I have been thinking about the difference between “blessed” and “lucky.” While both are important in at least that they recognize things happen beyond a person’s own agency, both have completely different meanings and larger suggestions and both vastly oversimply cause and effect.
“Lucky” acknowledges the situation or outcome was not inevitable. A student got lucky and passed the multiple choice test without studying; a patient in a clinical trial got lucky by getting the medication instead of the placebo; even though he was late to work, the parent got lucky he missed the train that crashed; even though the applicant was excited about a job at a university, she was lucky she didn’t get the position because the school closed down the next year.
“Luck” is a way of explaining and justifying what happens (when we are pleased with the results), especially when we have little-to-no control (control, per se) over the situation
“Blessed” implies divine intervention. In the situations above, “blessed” could be substituted. Concerning, however, is all of those who are “not blessed” in such a situation. Blessed indirectly and directly implies that some people have special favor, compared to others, and this is one major problem with religion today.
People say they are blessed to be born in the United States instead of Iraq, for example, when that is an accident of time, place, and biology. If they had been born in Iraq, they might consider themselves lucky not to be in the United States. Notions of nationalism and what a person is accustomed to are important.
“Blessed” rhetoric erases the feelings of those people who do not have the same access to a “safe” and “comfortable” world. “Blessed” rhetoric also assumes homogenization in terms of world views, across time and place.
Is the person who dies at twenty un-blessed?
Is the person who gets the placebo un-blessed?
Unblessed meaning cursed or that they are less-special than others. Do people realize this is what they suggest when they use “blessed.”
Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people.
Both “blessed” and “lucky” are limited in that they do not recognize agency or privilege.
A person saying, only luck enabled them to pass the exam, needs to work on his/her internal, controllable attributions–according to motivation theory.
Additionally, a person saying they were lucky to get the job, needs to recognize not just her/his own education, experience, and dedication, but also various levels of privilege involved, as appropriate.
Regardless of the hard work involved, for a male, male privilege is involved in the United States – even if they are clearly the most qualified person for the management position and privilege didn’t play a role in the interview, said individual had a life time of privilege enabling them to have such opportunities. And looking at intersectionality, if this male is tall and thin, the related privileges are only increased.
Attributing success in such position to “luck,” ignores privilege, and similar to the problems with “blessed,” suggests that people without such are born cursed and such is justified and unchangeable. Black people are not un-lucky. Muslims are not un-lucky. They are born into a society that does not care to challenge privilege, teach history, and promote equity.
In different ways, “being lucky” or “being blessed” both have the consequence of perpetuating the “us” vs. “them” / “majority” vs. “other” paradigm and removing responsibility to make the world better. They also both de-emphasize the individual and his/her own accomplishments.
Please visit the full Hidden Power of Words Series here.
Added 11/23/15 12:39 AM: For a related perspective read The Politics of Writing‘s “Analysis of Luck.”