You may have already seen this powerfully moving video.
A group of about two dozen young people—probably college kids—line up shoulder to shoulder for a foot race. The prize? A hundred-dollar bill. The runners are promised that the first to cross the finish line will walk away with the hundred dollars. First, though, they are asked some questions.
The leader instructs them to take two steps forward if the following statements are true for them. If the answer is ‘no,’ they must remain where they stand.
“Take two steps forward if your parents are still married to each other,” he says. Several take the biggest steps they can.
The statements continue, with some runners moving forward and some staying put.
“If you grew up with a father figure in your home.”
“If you had access to private education.”
“If you had access to a free tutor.”
By now, the starting line is hugely staggered. You can see mounting frustration on the faces of the people still at their original spots. But the leader continues.
“If you have never worried about your cell phone being shut off.”
“If you never had to help your mom and dad with the bills.”
The line becomes even more zigzagged, with some runners now far in the lead. But the organizer still isn’t ready to say “GO.”
“Take two steps forward if you don’t have to pay for your own college,” he says.
“If you never wondered where your next meal will come from.”
Finally, the statements cease and the leader asks the participants near the front to turn around and see how many are behind them.
“You did not get here by anything you did,” he tells them. “You still get to run this race, in fact, you must. Everyone must. But recognize your advantage. This is a picture of life. Nothing you have done has got you to this place. Some of us win in life mainly because of the head start we’ve been given. The others will need to run faster, harder, and smarter to win.”
I can think of still more questions that could have been asked, like being born in Canada and learning English as a first language. Like having a healthy body and mind. Like knowing you are loved.
The race begins, and an aerial shot shows that one of the advantaged runners does, indeed, win the prize.
I watched in humility, realizing I could have taken steps forward with nearly all those statements. How about you?
“Whoever wins,” the leader said, “would be foolish not to acknowledge his unfair advantage and not to learn more about others’ stories.” The exercise, like this post, was not intended to induce guilt, but consideration and responsibility.
Something to remember next time you feel tempted to look with judgement on someone who is lagging behind you in the race of life. And then add to the remembering, acknowledgement. And to acknowledgement, gratitude. And to gratitude, compassion.