Tuesday, June 02, 2009


We almost won the $49,000,000 lottery last week. That is to say, we had a ticket on that lottery, and the winning ticket was bought in Edmonton. So we almost won, and we knew we had, though it turned out that the winning ticket was split 13 ways by a group of payroll employees and none of our numbers matched theirs.
Still, I can’t help but feel that we almost won the lottery, because our close call led us into so many interesting conversations with friends. “”If you won that money,”” asked one of my colleagues, “”and you were going to give some of it to the Hope Foundation, what rules would you attach for how it had to be spent? Would you spend it on better furniture, or decent computers or what?””
“”Well,”” I answered thoughtfully, for this is a question I had already asked myself, “”I think we’d find the money for better chairs and decent computers if we really decided to. What we don’t seem to find money for is competitive staff salaries, because we always want to make sure we can keep the people we have so we never ask for competitive wages. So I think I’d insist it be spent on that.”” I was imagining the six-figure numbers in the newspaper ads. The brightest and the best would come banging on our doors, insisting that they be hired. We could give money away to creative researchers, to impoverished clients. My colleague was nodding right along. These ideas weren’t new to her. She also had a ticket and had already thought of them.
Another friend said, “”The hardest thing would be deciding what charities to give the money to. You know, there’s so much need out there.””
Later in the week people were still talking about it. Sitting around the dinner table, the Robertsons said, “”It would be very difficult to figure out how to share the money with your family in such a way that nobody would feel wronged or cheated.”” They went on to recount stories of families split painfully over money from a benefactor who had made a huge effort to be fair.
On and on went the conversations. Each time I had one I would ask: “”Don’t you think you’d want to keep the money?””
“”Oh no,”” replied my friends. “”I wouldn’t know how to spend it all. It would ruin my life.””
So there we were, my friends and me, living out a concept that my colleague Lenora LeMay calls ‘possible selves. Each of us was imagining ourselves as the best that we could be, having wealth and sharing it. The whole scenario enchanted me. Then I remembered a story I’d heard.
A group of employees won a lot of money a few years ago. The day they won the money some of them said they planned to share the winnings with the colleagues who had missed the chance to put their names on the ticket. The media loved that story, but the plan did not come to fruition. Jobs were quit and holidays were taken. The driveways of the winners sported shiny SUV’s and snow mobiles and off-road vehicles. With that in mind I took a second look at all of us and wondered how much of the $49,000,000 we’d be willing to keep. Even more to the point, if we had split it 13 ways, how much of the $3.9 million would we feel we needed? Would we be as generous as we thought we’d be when the chips were down?
After days of serious pondering I finally reached a conclusion. Win or no win, I truly am a lucky person. Imagine having the joy of being close to so many people who didn’t mention one shiny thing they’d like to buy! Of course they’d buy a few shiny things. Who wouldn’t? but the shiny things were not the first option that came to their imagination. As friends go, you really can’t improve much on that. But you do have to wonder why it is that we all buy those tickets.

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