Skepticism

Luck Is a Four-Letter Word

So where did the phrase “luck of the Irish” come from? Some say it refers specifically to bad luck. Just for starters, almost 1,000 years of domination and oppression, not to mention such events as the potato famine, hardly qualify as being particularly lucky.

Another use of the phrase was as a slur, to refer to Irish immigrants in the U.S. who were successful, particularly in gold or silver mining. They had to have been lucky because it couldn’t have been hard work or intelligence.

But what about the whole concept of luck to begin with? Is there such a thing as an object, for example, or a ritual that brings luck? Are some people luckier than others?

In Richard Wiseman’s book The Luck Factor, he points out that people who believe they are lucky actually are often more “lucky” than others, but not for some magical or paranormal reason. Believing you’re lucky gives you more confidence, and confident people are more likely to make their own luck. They are more likely to act on more opportunities than less confident people, which will pay off often enough to confirm their belief in their own luck. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, confidence alone without the belief in luck will work just as well. Better, actually, considering you don’t run the risk of losing that confidence by encountering something you believe is unlucky.

But what about that lucky hat that helps your favorite team win if you wear it while watching the game? You wear the hat, your team wins—the connection is obvious, right? But if some object or ritual really is bringing that team luck, how do you know it’s that hat and not any one of the million variables in your life or in the lives of other fans, the athletes, the managers, etc.? What if the lucky object is actually the ring some other fan wears or the socks, one inside out, worn by an athlete’s mom? Maybe the team wins when exactly 67% of fans watching the game are sitting back at a 43-degree angle at precisely the midpoint of the game.

In general, believing in luck requires a healthy degree of narcissism. After all, if a professional sports team relies on something I do or possess, I must be pretty freaking important. That’s a lot of lives, hopes, and financial futures revolving around me. Should the athletes even bother to practice? What’s the point? The game is fixed. How fun.

Not to mention how dismissive luck is of the intelligence, hard work, and skill of the people involved. If I believe that wearing a lucky talisman helps my relative survive surgery or keeps my transatlantic flight from crashing, I’m pretty much discounting the medical staff and the flight crew. It’s very much a slur, just as it was used to disparage Irish Americans. I mean, can you imagine studying like a maniac to ace an important exam or working your butt off to earn a promotion only to have someone tell you it wasn’t you, that they deserve the credit because they were wearing their lucky underwear that day?

Luck is an offensive concept. It really is a four-letter word.

Image credit: Featured photo by Luz Adriana Villa A.

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Melanie Mallon

Melanie Mallon

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer who just moved to a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband and two young kids. When not counting how often the words "pride," "liberty," and "freedom" are used in local business, road, and pet names, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and raising her two kids to be critical thinkers. She is the managing editor of Skepchick Events, a Grounded Parents admin, and a Skepchick contributor. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Google+

1 Comment

  1. March 21, 2012 at 3:55 pm —

    Love this! 

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