Have you ever asked people how they were, and the response was “blessed,” and then wondered if this is a statement of faith, a celebration of life, or a comparison to all those who are worse off. Sometimes it seems like a litmus test for inclusion. “I’m blessed; are you?”

This post is prompted by two recent occurrences. One took place in an African American history class when a student blamed Africans for their capture. He described them as being slower and less smart so in some way deserving of enslavement. The other is a Republican Party presidential candidate who stated it was the fault of the unemployed themselves if they did not have jobs.

This drawing of lines according to who is “blessed” requires that all others on the other side of that line are “cursed,” or at a minimum not blessed. Carried through history, this interpretation of misfortune, either through original sin, the acts of the fathers for seven generations or two thousand seasons, or fate encourages a callous response. Some in the western world define “karma” as a sort of individual or collective “payback.” Some practicing Buddhists, on the other hand, meditate on recurring patterns in life and see karma as action taken to move self-imposed obstacles.

Similarly, there are people who view Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans as a moral punishment. These may also be the same people who reject global warming as a consequence of environmental imbalance accelerated by carbon emission. So where does that lead us with regard to natural disasters such as floods, tornados and famine; warfare in Asia Minor; refugees in the horn of Africa; and the world economy going down the drain? Is there some exterior force (the “hand of God”) or do we speak of acts of man? What is out of our hands? Even insurance underwriters classify natural disasters this way to determine coverage and compensation rates.

Is it reasonable to strike a balance, assume a level of personal responsibility rather than credit destiny, fate and circumstances beyond our control? Viewing the glass as half-full or half-empty and having an optimistic rather than negative point of view, we are informed, are critical components to good health and well-being. Might this be what “blessed” means – the capacity for agency – for taking pro-active steps? Rather than see the “hand of God” flexing upon us, why not acknowledge as easily the hand of man? Self-determination, will power, stamina, health are all factors, However, blaming someone for lacking any of these cannot be the bottom line in assessing whether one is “blessed.”

Over the centuries, people have survived all manner of tragedies. And it was not simply the strongest who made it. Truth or consequences should be altered to truth and consequences. Every action has a reaction; this is a natural physical law of the universe. Another consideration is that a positive for one person may be a negative for another based upon different value systems. This should not paralyze us, but actually remove our blinders. We need to attempt to understand that what we do and how we act are measures of blessings and balance. There are collective responsibilities as well as individual ones. It is not necessary to distinguish yourself or your group as chosen by an exterior force. That force is determined within and by each of us making a choice. It becomes a measure of one’s character and humanity.

Given the roll of the dice, what we can do may be prescribed by physical, emotional, social and cultural realities. What we choose to do is determined by each individual facing those realities. For this project we are determined to remember our ancestors, repair a broken circle. That is our defined blessing.

Also, as an example of how our ancestors responded to the “roll of the dice,” please read a previous post: Random Acts of Kindness.