Chance and Hot Air Balloons

When was the last time you considered the odds of your life panning out in the exact way that it has? Most of the time, the role of chance in our lives goes completely unnoticed, even as it shapes every aspect of our lives and our world. People are hardwired to assign blame or credit to one particular person or event that we think “caused” something to happen. In reality, causation is not a straight line, leading from one cause to one effect to one aftereffect. It’s more like a huge spider web, with causes influencing many effects and effects further influencing many causes, and once in awhile a big helping of chance is thrown in just to complicate matters more. We would much rather think in straight lines than in spider webs. It’s much easier. But it is immensely important to realize the sheer force of chance in influencing our lives, because it gives us a much deeper appreciation for all the miracles they contain that are so often taken for granted.

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I was confronted by an event that left me with an immense appreciation for chance just a few weeks ago. I was working outside on my family’s farm when I saw a hot air balloon rise over the tree line. It began to descend as it passed over the farm and I followed it, wanting to see it land. I was not disappointed. The two pilots managed to first set their basket down in the middle of a line of thirty-foot pine trees, then, after extracting themselves, collide with the side of my neighbor’s house before finally landing in the neighbor’s yard. While I watched this whole odd debacle, I realized how incredibly unlikely it was. Had I been busy that day, as most other days, I would not have been home and would have never realized a balloon had been there. Had the wind blown just slightly differently, the balloon would have avoided its collisions. Had the FAA realized that these particular pilots were so completely inept, they could not have obtained a license to fly their balloon in the first place. Had my mother not planted that line of thirty foot pine trees as saplings twenty years previously, or chosen not to water them through the drought that came right away after, the balloon would have had no problem landing in what otherwise was a flat, wide open field. The spider web of all these unlikely circumstances added up to produce one truly odd event, and because I was there to see it, I was reminded of how many unlikely, even miraculous events occur unnoticed every single day in the lives of every single person on the planet.

Having an appreciation for such events prevents us from assigning as much undeserved credit and blame and frees us to think about the big picture. Such thinking can only propel ourselves, our society, and, ultimately, our world forwards.

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