How to Avoid Being Swayed by Emotion or Tradition When Making Important Decisions

The casting of lots to make decisions and determine fates has a long record in human history, including several instances mentioned in the Bible. The first public lotteries to distribute prize money were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century, raising funds for town repairs and helping the poor. The word lottery may be a calque from the Middle Dutch loterie or the French loterie, both of which mean “action of drawing lots.”

When Shirley Jackson’s chilling short story “The Lottery” was first published in 1948 in The New Yorker, it prompted more letters than any other work that the magazine had ever printed. Readers were furious, disgusted, occasionally curious, and almost uniformly bewildered.

Among the many issues raised by this story is the role of tradition in our lives. The fact that the people in this village have been conducting The Lottery for years without question shows how important tradition can be to a community. In addition, The Lottery also raises questions about gender roles. The fact that men are allowed to participate in this activity suggests that women do not have a strong presence in this society.

The central theme of this story is the need to avoid being swayed by emotion or tradition when making important decisions. This is a message that is particularly appropriate in this time of economic stress, when many people are scrambling to have even $400 in emergency savings and paying off credit card debt.