Being lucky in winning the lottery may not be so lucky after all. In fact, it might be a downright disaster, as I’ve discovered in reading about the bad luck lottery winners.
Only the latest account is the sad saga of Urooj Khan, an Indian businessman from Chicago, who was poisoned to death with cyanide, presumably at a family dinner, the night before he was going to pick up a check for his lottery winnings. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/12/urooj-khan-death-family-q_n_2463614.html).
Initially, he was buried after what seemed like a sudden illness, but a suspicious relative called the police to investigate, and since then a story of family quarrels has emerged that hint at possible motives. Now the police plan to exhume his body to determine how he was poisoned and who might have done it. It’s a real who-dunnit that will probably turn up as a feature on the 48-Hours mystery series (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/48hours) or at your local movie multiplex.
But Khan is only the most recent lottery winner whose life fell apart after winning. There have been many dozens of such victims, even from the early days of the lottery. For example, a 2006 USA Today story, “Lottery Winners’ Good Luck Can Go Bad Fast,” (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-02-26-lotteryluck_x.htm#) described how William “Bud” Post, who won $16.2 million in the 1988 Pennsylvania Lottery, had a brother who tried to have someone kill him for the inheritance, and later Post spent all his winnings and was living on Social Security when he die in 2006.
Billie Bob Harrell Jr., who won the $31 million Texas Lottery in 1997, committed suicide two years later, after a spree in which he bought cars and real estate and contributed money to his family church and friends. Victoria Zell, who won $11 million in a Powerball jacket with her husband, lost her money and served time in a Minnesota prison after she crashed her car while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, leaving one person dead and another paralyzed.
The stories of misfortune after winning go on and on. For example, in “A Treasury of Terribly Sad Stories of Lotto Winners,” Jen Doll lists the various kinds of mishaps that can occur for winners – poverty after spending all the money on drugs and hookers or excessive gambling, losing friends, fighting among coworkers, being looked down on for the winnings, ending up in debt for failing to manage the money properly, a descent into crime, going bankrupt, getting murdered, committing suicide, and suffering a series of terrible events, such as experienced by Jack Whittaker of West Virginia. He was an already wealthy businessman who won $315 million, then the largest jackpot ever in December 25, 2002. http://news.yahoo.com/terribly-sad-true-stories-lotto-winners-164423531.html.
As described by Joe Nocera in “The Bad Luck of Winning,” a decade after Whittaker scored his big hit, “his daughter and granddaughter had died of drug overdoses, his wife had divorced him, he had been sued numerous times. Once, when he was at a strip club, someone drugged his drink and took $545,000 in cash that had been sitting in his car. He later sobbed to reporters: ‘I wish I’d torn that ticket up.’”
Well, after reading about all those tragedies that followed big lottery wins, I began thinking, what if instead of winning money in a lottery, people could register for a lottery in which they could give money away – either their own or the money they win? Then, rather than suffering the bad luck or karma that seems to come with winning large sums of money, they might expect the great fortune or karma that comes to those who generously give to others. Instead of finding themselves overwhelmed and unable to handle the sudden riches they get in a regular lottery, they would experience the joy and fulfillment of giving their money to others they don’t know, depending on the type of lottery they enter. Call it the “Great Lottery Giveaway.”
Here’s how it might work. Just like a regular lottery, the person would pay $1 for each ticket. But the lottery might be set up to offer varying amounts that would be given away – and different lotteries would offer different types of individuals or organizations who would be given the money. For example, one lottery might offer to give the money to a certain well-known charity; another lottery might give the money for research on cancer or other disease; still another might offer the money to pay for a cultural center; some might target disadvantaged individuals, such as the homeless or victims of terrible crimes, and so on. Just think of a needy cause and there could be a lottery with tickets for that. Then, the winner could be celebrated as the guest of honor at a gala event, where the recipients of the lottery winnings could meet and thank their benefactor.
Additionally, there might even be some lotteries, where people might contribute their own money for a reward, and lottery ticket buyers could buy tickets which give that money away. Then, both the contributors and winners would be celebrated for at an awards ceremony for that lottery.
This idea of a great lottery give-away seemed like a light-hearted joke when I first thought of it – a kind of parody of the hard luck winner stories I read about. But the more I thought about the possibility and wrote up this article, the more I started thinking how this could really be a great idea that could work. Just think of the benefits that could be created as the funds from the lottery are donated to worthy causes. And think of the way the winners lives could be transformed by benefiting from all the good luck they get by giving money away, rather than the bad luck of winning so much money that they can’t handle what they win.
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Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing (http://www.changemakerspublishingandwriting.com) . She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her company Changemakers Productions. (http://www.changemakersproductions.com) Her latest books include: The Very Next New Thing: Commentaries on the Latest Developments that Will Be Changing Your Life (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=the+very+next+new+thing), Living in Limbo: From the End to New Beginnings (http://www.amazon.com/Living-Limbo-Beginnings-Survived-Mortgage/dp/1480059978/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1354213613&sr=8-7&keywords=living+in+limbo+-+Gini+Graham+Scott), and Want It, See It, Get It: Visualize Your Way to Success (http://www.amazon.com/Want-It-See-Get-Visualize/dp/1466290838/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354214327&sr=8-1&keywords=want+it+see+it+get+it)
Recently, I’ve been reading about the trials and tribulations of the very rich and famous, and realized the aspiration to be part of that elite may not be so great as it’s cracked up to be. One reason is that becoming rich and famous may turn into more of a curse than a blessing, so maybe it’s time to appreciate NOT being rich and famous.
A second reason is that the rich and famous live in a publicity glass cage, like prisoners of their fame, where they are continually onstage, like characters in a modern-day soap opera, in which the sagas and scandals of the rich and famous are like modern-day morality stories. While these stories help reinforce our social values of right and wrong, or at least get a dialog going about this, the rich and famous individuals at the center of these stories are under a public microscope and subject to the slings and arrows of public opinion.
The recent stories that led me to think about these issues are the international fight over Edward Snowden, who became a sudden celebrity after he leaked the evidence that NSA was collecting information about just about everyone from our phone records and the Internet, leading to a national debate about whether he is a traitor or hero for revealing the extent of government surveillance on private citizens. Wherever he ultimately ends up and whether he is indicted for crimes by the U.S. government, his story has triggered a debate over the nature of society in an information age facing threats of terrorism. In effect, his story has turned into something of a morality play about the values of privacy versus security, and what is more important when they come into conflict with each other.
Still another of these front-page dramas that has captivated the nation is the scandal surrounding Paula Deen, the fourth most popular chef, earning $17 million as a brand for her TV shows, books, products, and fees as a spokesperson from several food companies. What started the scandal ball rolling is a statement she made in a lawsuit against her and her husband that she used the “N” word as a racial slur against a former employee. After she admitted she did so, the transcript of the lawsuit went viral, and even though the statement was one she had made several decades before, she was suddenly in the media and public opinion crosshairs, and not only did ABC fire her from her cooking show, but other companies who had used her as a spokesperson or sold her products began peeling away, much as when O.J. Simpson, once the Avis spokesperson famed for rushing through airports, lost all kinds of backing when tried for murder in 1994.
Though Deen apologized profusely with tears on the Today show, pundits weighed in saying her brand was permanently damaged because now, in an age supporting racial acceptance and equality, her apology for even a much earlier slur was not enough. Instead, the media went into overdrive in chronicling her fall, like the end of the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz.
Then there was the Aaron Hernandez story, where sports, fame, celebrity, and money came together in the tale of a bad boy athlete who killed his good friend Odin Lloyd for disrespecting him by talking to the wrong people at a nightclub. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/27/aaron-hernandez-murder-charge-texts-video_n_3508836.html
So allegedly Hernandez arranged a hit and drove Lloyd to a spot where he and two friends killed him. Then when Hernandez returned he sought to destroy his video and security equipment, presumably to eliminate any traces of him arranging for the scheme. And a few days later, Hernandez was charged with murder. Whatever the outcome, the Hernandez brand is forever tarnished, and he has already been dropped from the team, and will certainly lose millions, both from the top lawyers he hires and the losses in income and endorsements.
Meanwhile, I’ve been watching the Monarchy series on Netflix that traces the rise of kings in England from the days of Alfred in the Middle Ages through the reign of Henry the 8th (and beyond, though the Netflix series stopped with Henry). And one continuing theme was the way each generation of kids in the royal families were instilled with the goal of ruling as large a kingdom as they could – and as necessary, eliminating any threats to their rule by marriage, conquest, or murder; but then once in power, the rulers were continually under siege from others who had their own designs on the throne. Thus, there were continual battles between the royal supporters and the opposition, commonly deemed traitors and put to death along with their top minions, unless they were victorious, whereupon the current ruler was deposed and often killed – or at least that’s my simplification of about a thousand years of British and European history.
Well, what comes through load and clear from all of these stories are these key points about wealth and fame. First, as much as becoming rich and famous is valued in our age of media-driven celebrity, maybe it’s overrated. Certainly, one needs a minimum income to become secure and comfortable; but once one has that security, it seems one can lead a relatively peaceful life with family and friends, without worrying about being caught up in the struggle for glory and acquiring even more money, while being exposed by a relentless media eager to exploit a person’s fatal flaw to bring someone down. For example, if Paula Deen was just an ordinary chef someplace, little notice would have been given to a similar lawsuit claiming discrimination – it would be just one of many such suits, but Paula Deen’s fame turned it into a scandal, destroying a reputation that took decades to build in a few hours.
Secondly, I think these stories serve as a kind of reminder of what we consider right and good, whatever the outcome for the person at the center of the turmoil. For example, the Snowden case reminds us of the value of personal privacy and suggests when the concern with security has gone too far, while Snowden has paid a very high personal price for sparking this debate. The Paula Deen case reminds us of how far we have come in accepting diversity, tolerance, and acceptance, even though the media and corporate America may have overreacted in turning Deen into a pariah for something she did decades ago and disavows now. And the Hernandez case reminds us that regardless of how much fame and wealth one has accumulated, one is not above the law; one has to play by the rules or one can very readily fall from grace by an evil action or series of them, and then there is no going back. Even the kings of England had to work with Parliament and appeal to the support of their followers and the people, or they could easily fall prey to the many contenders and pretenders who would bring them down.
Thus, while being rich and famous can bring with it many perks, such as a luxurious, elegant lifestyle and opportunities for the finest products, services, and travel, there are plenty of downsides, too. So, do you still want to join the rich and famous ranks? At least keep the potential risks of doom and destruction due to greed, envy, excess, missteps, and the media glare. And if you’re not rich and famous, think of all the benefits you may gain – so the ideal of gaining wealth and fame may not, after all, be so great.
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Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing (www.changemakerspublishingandwriting.com). Her own website is at www.ginigrahamscott.com. She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her company Changemakers Productions. Her latest books are Transformations: How New Developments in Science, Technology, Business and Society Are Changing Your Life http://www.amazon.com/Transformations-Developments-Technology-Business-Changing/dp/1490318046/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1372302438&sr=8-9&keywords=Transformations+-+scott and The Battle Against Internet Book Piracy http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Against-Internet-Book-Piracy/dp/1490331921/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372302489&sr=1-1&keywords=battle+against+internet+piracy.
Today, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, it seems we are approach a new Middle Ages in America, as inequality increasingly spreads through the land. It is as if the superrich are like the new royalty and the top 1% are living in mansions like the old castles of kings in the kingdoms that eventually melded into Europe and the U.K. Meanwhile, the media wields the power of the medieval church, placing its blessing on those with wealth and celebrity, who are protected by their retinue of publicists, handlers, lawyers, chauffeurs, and servants. They are much like the landed nobility who were part of the king’s court, who formed a protected and privileged enclave far removed from the much larger class of peasants who worked their land and paid their taxes, which supported the royalty and monarchy in their grand style.
I began thinking of this comparison after a friend emailed a link to a video that has been circulating on the Internet – Wealth Inequality in America http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM, at the same time that I have been watching some TV series set in the Middle Ages – Monarchy http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0431550, about the history of the kings and queens in England, starting in 400AD with the warring feudal lords who were united into a kingdom under Alfred in 871, Borgia, about the growing power and wealth of the papacy under Rodrigo Borgia, who became Pope Alexander VI and his family, in the late1400s, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1736341; and World Without End, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1878805, about the struggles of the peasants in England in the 1300s, during the reign of King Edward V.
The Wealth Inequality in America video makes a frightening case for what is happening in America as the middle class is being undermined and the poor are becoming poorer than ever. The video also echoes what I have noticed in my own life, where a growing number of professional and business people are now out of jobs or businesses, recently lost their home to default or foreclosure, or have recently filed bankruptcy or are on the verge of doing so. This video is not just a study in economic statistics – but it shows how our society is being irrevocably changed by the growing disparity of wealth between the super rich and everyone else.
As the Wealth Inequality in America video describes, a Harvard business professor and economist asked over 5000 Americans how they thought wealth was distributed in the U.S, which was about $54 trillion in 2009. Based on dividing the country into 5 groups – the bottom 20%, second 20%, middle 20%, fourth 20%, and top 20%, he asked how the survey participants thought wealth was divided and the ideal distribution. Then he compared those results with the reality for 311 million Americans. Based on this, the survey group thought the top 20% had about 60% of the wealth, and the fourth 20% about 20% more, though in their ideal scenario, 92% of the group imagined that the top 10% would have about 35% of the wealth, and the middle and top fourth about 20% of the wealth each. But in reality, the top 20% have about 85% of the wealth, and next fourth about 10%. That leaves about 5% for the remaining 60% of Americans. And the top 1% has nearly 20% of the wealth. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph; http://danariely.com/2010/09/30/wealth-inequality;
This disparity is worse than ever, since in the ideal scenario, the wealthy are about 10 to 20 times wealthy as the poorest Americans, while there is a healthy middle class. But in reality, the poorest Americans are barely getting by, the middle class is barely distinguishable from the poor, and the top 10% are much better off, especially the top 1% which has 40% of the wealth. The bottom 80% has only 7% of the wealth. This situation has gotten worse in last 20-30 years. The richest 1% earn 24% of the income today, whereas in 1976, that number was only 9%. Moreover, the top 1% own half the countries’ stocks, bonds and mutual funds, while the bottom 50% own only .5% of them. (http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/10/03/334156/top-five-wealthiest-one-percent). A CEO makes 380 times the income of average employee, so the average employee has to work about a month to earn what CEO makes in 1 hour. http://money.cnn.com/2012/04/19/news/economy/ceo-pay/index.htm).
This situation is much like what existed in the Middle Ages, with today’s poor underclass much in the position of the peasants, and the superrich like the nobility, with the blessings of the media heaped upon the rich and famous. For example, look at the huge McMansions of the celebrities, wealthy CEOs, and Internet millionaires. These homes are often high on bluffs and surrounded by gates, while bodyguards, security guards, and an entourage offering various services surround them, much like the retainers, servants, and knights of old protected the king, queen, or other high ranking nobles. Likewise the marriages of celebrities and the wealthy with one another, celebrated through features in the celebrity press about their glamorous marriages, are much like the marriages of the royals of different countries, with families seeking to cement alliances through these matrimonial ties. Then as now the wealthy families had access to the finest education, travel, and clothes, while private jets are a modern day equivalent to the fine carriages and horses of old.
The modern day superwealthy also find plenty of loopholes to preserve their wealth, such as tax shelters in no-tax islands, while the middle and lower income classes, much like the medieval peasants were required to pay more and more, such as the extra taxes the English peasants had to pay to finance the hundred years war from 1337 to 1453. As for the media, they play the role of the medieval church in the way they support and celebrate the doings of the superrich in the growing number of celebrity and style publications. And to make one more comparison, the reality shows where competitors seek to be the last one standing are like the jousts of knights, especially in shows like “Fear Factor” and “Wipeout,” where the competitors face extremely difficult and even dangerous challenges, though they wear safety harnesses and a team of medics are in waiting to take care of any physical or emotional challenges that might arise.
In short, the growing disparity of wealth today has many parallels with the unequal society that emerged in the Middle Ages, as kings and nobles consolidated their territories and became richer and richer, drawing on the taxes of the peasants to help them become even more powerful. But lest we forget, the wealthy superrich of medieval times were continually subject to plotting by the other superrich seeking to overthrow them, along with repeated peasant revolts against their mistreatment So some of the modern day protests, like the Occupy movement and the growing protests about the Zimmerman verdict, might have parallels with the peasant protests that deposed many kings and nobles and some of the social revolutions like the French Revolution that led to a shift to a fairer society for a time before the rise of a new wealthy class once again. Could that happen today? It could be one of the outcomes of the spread of the New Middle Ages characterized by a growing disparity of wealth and the rise of the super wealthy who are like today’s new royalty. Or might there be another outcome through efforts to create a more equal society before the growing inequality becomes even worse?
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Gini Graham Scott, PhD, writes frequently about social trends and everyday life. She is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing. She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her company Changemakers Productions. Her latest books include: TRANSFORMATION: HOW NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, BUSINESS AND SOCIETY ARE CHANGING YOUR LIFE http://www.amazon.com/Transformations-Developments-Technology-Business-Changing/dp/1490318046/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372985784&sr=8-1&keywords=transformations+gini+graham+scott and THE BATTLE AGAINST INTERNET BOOK PIRACY http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Against-Internet-Book-Piracy/dp/1490331921/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372985827&sr=1-1&keywords=internet+book+piracy+scott