An unopened fortune cookie

An unopened fortune cookie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, recently delivered the graduation speech at Princeton University.  In his presentation, he shared this story:

A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats.

Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader.

Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies.

Four cookies.

The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies.

Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t.

With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it.

Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

Michael used this story to remind the graduates of how lucky they were to be in their positions and that they shouldn’t take their positions for granted.

He ended by saying, “All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.”

Chances are, if you are reading this post, you live in fortunate circumstances.

You may not consider yourself to be a part of the fortunate few, but if you have access to clean water, eat more than one meal a day, have a roof over your head and have enough money for yourself and your family’s basic requirements, you are in the minority.

The reality is that much of our good fortune is due to the arbitrary circumstances we were born into.  I know that I responsible for making the most of my opportunities in life and I constantly say that we make our own success, but I am also aware that being born in Australia rather than a small rural village in Burundi or Afghanistan gives me access to many more resources.

This story from Michael is a reminder to not just to take all that we can because we feel entitled, but to make sure that everyone is being looked after.

Some say that we are blessed so that we can be a blessing to others.

I would encourage you today to be that blessing to those less fortunate and not eat fortune’s cookie.

To find a full transcript of this brilliant speech, click here.  It’s well worth the read.

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