Wheel of Life

Wheel of Life
Photo by Egor Myznik / Unsplash

If you’re reading this, it means two things. 1) You can read and 2) You have access to the internet. The deeper implication of these two advantages is that you have your basic physiological needs met. If you hadn’t, you likely wouldn’t be worried about reading or the internet.

Philosopher John Rawls writes about the ‘Veil of Ignorance’ in his book A Theory of Justice. It’s a thought exercise designed to make us think about how to set up society in a more just way. While I don’t agree with all of Rawls’ teachings, this idea certainly tickles my imagination.

Essentially, Rawls calls you to imagine you’re a person in a hypothetical society. The goal is to design the ideal society for yourself but there’s a catch: you don’t know your position. You could be white, black, male, female, rich, poor, or anything in between. As such, it makes sense to set up society in a way that benefits everyone. For example, if you don’t know if you’re rich in the imagined scenario, it doesn’t make sense to cut taxes that would benefit the poor person you could very well be.

The first time I read through the aforementioned experiment, it honestly made me feel helpless. Of course we need a more just society, but what am I, as an individual, supposed to do about it? While I still don’t have an answer to this question, it led me down a journey to better understand my own position in society and to ask, “If I could re-spin the wheel of life, would I?” In other words, if I could re-enter the random lottery of being born again, would I do it? On the one end of the spectrum, I could end up wealthy, extremely beautiful, and everything I claim to want to be. At the other end, I would be in poverty, sickly, and everything I fear. Knowing my current circumstances, would I take my chances?

Absolutely not! With the position I’m in, there’s no way on Mars that I’d spin the wheel of life again. To have food on the table, a roof over my head, a good family, a valuable education, and access to the internet has to put me in the top 1% of the world’s luckiest people. I’d be mad to spin again.

When I’m feeling greedy, this question reminds me to keep things in perspective. Maybe it’ll help you do the same.