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A Bad Day

Some lessons in life are best learnt through personal experiences. Similarly, certain experiences teach us more about life than years of formal education. These experiences also make us realize that we often shape our worldview to suit our needs and conveniences even if the reality may be different. Even more, these experiences expose us to questions we would never have asked otherwise.

Until few years ago, I was a firm believer that the choices people make shape their destiny and external circumstances play little or no role in one’s success or failure. If anyone would say they could not do something because the circumstances were out of their control, I would merely dismiss them as lazy. Little did I know that my worldviews had been shaped only by my personal circumstances which were much better than most of the inhabitants of this planet. Similarly, I would be quick to dismiss events that had little probability of occurring. The idea of unfavorable circumstances occurring one after another was not even a remote possibility in my world just as the players in the financial market almost never worry about low probability events even though they are not that uncommon. But it took few incidents for me to learn how much our lives are influenced by the actions of others and how unfavorable events together could change the direction of our entire lives. Ironically, some of these events are minor in nature yet they still set things in motion.

When I was in high school, I had a friend from the Middle East who lived in the neighborhood and was religious. Even though I am not religious but we started having conversations due to different point-of-views. The mosque he used to attend had been under watch by FBI for a while though no one in the community knew. One day an FBI agent visited my house and requested to speak to me. The agent told me my friend had been interacting with fundamentalist elements on the internet though he had not done anything yet that may justify his arrest. The agent asked me to come to the FBI local headquarter next day for questioning about my friend and also asked me to bring my passport for verification purpose. The FBI agent left and after a while, a school friend came with a cousin of his who had been visiting from Canada. My friend’s cousin was also an avid player of video games like me and during conversation, my friend pointed out his cousin towards my cupboard where I kept video games discs. I also used to keep other important items including my passport in the same cupboard.

Next morning, as I opened the cupboard to retrieve my passport, I realized that my friend’s cousin had stolen some of my video games discs. An ordinary person might not have been able to tell but I always keep things in order and would instantly notice even slight displacement of items if they have been moved around. Since I was in urgency to leave for FBI office, I tried to look for passport but could not find it. I kept looking for an hour but in vain and ultimately had to leave for FBI Office without it. I had already been late by half an hour, given the expected commute time but got into an accident on the road through no fault of mine. The normal procedures such as helping traffic cops prepare accident report took another hour of mine and I even forgot to bring my cell phone in hurry which had the number given by the FBI agent. When I finally showed up at the FBI Office two hours later than my appointment, the agent hesitatingly admitted that had I been from Middle Eastern, they might have suspected me of fleeing the city and even being possibly involved with the friend who was under watch.

Even though the agent demonstrated courage in admitting that even public sector employees are influenced by personal bias, the admission really hit me hard how much our fate is determined at the time of our birth and how much the actions of others could impact us. The FBI didn’t put me on watch list because I was not from the Middle East but someone of Middle Eastern background might not have been so lucky. Similarly, I was not late in arriving for appointment due to my mistake but due to others’ actions such as my friend’s cousin who misplaced my passport and the driver who hit my car because he was talking on the cell phone. At that time I understood maybe unfavorable events are not so rare and the odds of such events happening is higher than what we usually believe, due to the complex world we live in with seven billion other human beings.

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