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Luck Plucks Us from the Herd

Daily Stoic Emails

If you want a good metaphor for how Fortune and luck act in our lives, think of a time you were speeding down the freeway, flanked by cars driving the same speed, many even faster than you. Suddenly, you see the flashing of sirens. A police car pulls you over. The officer has plucked you from the herd like an antelope. It’s not fair—plenty of other people deserved it as much as you—but it’s not unfair either. You were speeding. Or committing any number of other violations. Or maybe you weren’t, and still there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s the law.

The same goes for the time you saw the sirens and thought you were about to get pulled over, but instead the cop sped right on by—to pull over someone ahead of you, or to rush to some more important emergency. You deserved a ticket sure, you could have been rightfully plucked from the herd then, but that time you were spared. 

This is how Fortune acts in our lives. It darts in and out, targeting and sparing us with merciless indifference. It chose where we were born—and that we were born at all. It chose whether we were tall or short, and contributed to how rich or poor we ended up. It visits with a cancer diagnosis or gifts us with the ability to play professional ball. It’s not fair, and it’s not unfair. 

It just is. 

Seneca, more than any of the other Stoics, wrote again and again about the need to come to terms with this capriciousness. Fortune is fickle, he said, and she behaves just as she pleases. Understanding that is the first part. The second part is what Marcus wrote about—the need to practice the art of acquiescence. There’s no reason to get angry with the officer. Even if you could bribe your way out of that specific instance, another ticket lies waiting for you, tucked behind some trees on a hill, in some small town up the road. 

Fortune is always there. The herd offers us only so much protection and only for so long. Eventually our time comes—for bad luck, for good luck, and ultimately, for dying. That’s just how it goes. Get used to it. Better yet, get ready for it.

P.S. This was originally sent on December 18, 2018. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.