Friday, 19 October 2012

Life's great gamble

If life were a game of roulette, we'd all get to stand at the table with a pile of chips. Some people would have a bigger pile of chips than others, but all of us who made it through the door of the casino, at least most of us in the developed world, would have some some.

The red squares and their numbers would represent variants of living for today, and letting tomorrow take care of itself.  The black squares and their numbers would represent variants of living for the future - making sacrifices today in the hope of a better life in the future, or at least a secure life in old age.

When it came to placing our bets, most of us would probably not use all our chips at once, and those we did use would be split across red numbers and black numbers, to varying degrees. Complete hedonists who spend what's in their pocket would probably only have a single chip on black. Parsimonious dullards would probably only have a few chips on red. The rest of us would be somewhere in between.

Whilst that might be true, there's plenty of us who, having been playing the game a while now, have always tended to put the majority of our chips on black rather than red. That's what we've been encouraged to do by parents, employers, society. Work hard, save hard, play a bit along the way, that's the key to a long and happy life.

The problem is, just like the real game, the ball doesn't get rolled until we've made our final bet - and by then it's too late to change the bet. The ball being rolled of course produces the date when we shuffle off this mortal coil. Many people bet right - they have a long and happy life.

The problem is, as I get older I see more and more people get their bet wrong, and nearly all of them wish they'd had a few more chips on red numbers. The obvious answer of course is to shift a few chips across whilst you can. But therein lie the bigger problems. How many chips? To which squares? To the 'spend now' square? To the 'don't spend now, but jack in your stressful job' square? To the 'downshift all round' square? To the 'keep the stress but enjoy the fruits' square?

Life's instinctive gamblers know their answers, place their bets, and probably never regret their choices. Those of us, however, who find themselves saying quite regularly "I had a hunch about that, I wish I'd put a tenner on it", find it much less easy. If we do nothing, however, our chips get placed anyway for us, and the default bet for many is more chips on black. Putting them on red takes a bit of courage, not least to not reproach yourself if the bet goes wrong. It's difficult, particularly when you've got the next generation to consider too.

Lord above, I can see why people turn to religion, particularly as for those fortunate souls their belief means even if they get their bet wrong they'll still find eternal happiness. For us more agnostic types, the answer lies within us, and finding it isn't easy. I suppose we should just be grateful that when bad things happen around us, we are least prompted to think about where our chips should be.

Apologies, a cycling- and running-free post.

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