I had to take this quote, even though I don't know from where it originally comes. Maybe the Bible? I don't know. But I love the sentiment. That and "There but for fortune, go you or go I." That's a Joan Baez song. I know that one. Very similar lines of thought, and a string that I really appreciate. One very much at odds with the Protestant work ethic that the founders of the US valued so highly, and so it's often at odds with our current societal norms.
In the US, we like to believe in the American Dream. One works hard, gets an education, does what one is supposed to do- then one will be rewarded with a good job, nice house, retirement, et cetera. This is a noble belief, and to some extent it can be true. Unfortunately, this belief leads to the idea that those who have not achieved the American Dream are "wrong" in some respect- uneducated, lazy, something along those lines. We make adjustments to some degree for those with physical and occasionally mental disabilities, those who have noticeable restraints on what they can achieve through no fault of their own. But for the emotionally disabled, or the psychologically scarred, or the economically crippled- problems that may not be as obvious or may be more easily dismissed as quirky or quixotic- we often make no adjustment. We blame them for their misfortune, just as we credit ourselves for our fortune.
We ignore the physical origin of many mental and psychological health problems, even to the point of denying the importance of mental health parity in our health care and insurance industries. We discount past circumstances, and the inordinately non-level playing field between the lower, middle and upper economic classes. We cite a few extraordinary examples of rags-to-riches stories and act as though they are the norm. While physical and mental disabilities are treated as protected class, the psychologically disabled are stigmatized and ridiculed at the best, and tossed aside, beaten and imprisoned, possibly to the death, at the worst.
There's a balance between personal responsibility and social responsibility that we do not have in our sights, let alone have achieved. Even the President holds up the trait of hard work and self reliance as the major driver behind individual's fortunes, to the detriment of the large majority for whom this has not been the case, and without much qualm from society at large. We need to remember the lines that I began with more often. The next time you see a transient or pan handler, please try to withhold the reflexive "get a job" mentality, and remember- there but for fortune, go you or go I, and say a little prayer to who/whatever you want that when the rain comes, you can weather the storm.