Brazilian Portuguese has an odd linguistic confusion: the words to win, to earn, to receive are all the same. Ganhar.
“Ganhei a loteria.” I won the lottery.“Ganhei um vidrio de geleia.” Someone gave me a jar of jelly.
And my favorite: “Ganhei meu filho no ano pasado.” I had my son last year.
This language charms and enchants me. This is a magical world where lottery winnings are everywhere and winning is everyday. A gift is a win. A world where children are prizes to be received. I love this people that finds wins in the mundane, where all that enters your household all is to be celebrated.
On the other hand, it seems to me that this linguistic collision has a dark side: where is the difference between what is earned and what is won? The fact that this language makes no distinction makes my New-England Protestant-Work-Ethic driven brain nigh explode. As an extended family we struggle with encouraging one family of underachievers to stand on their own feet. But how to have the conversation when the language they use for what is given to them is the same as what is earned? How to draw the distinction between the profits of the sweat of your brow, a gift formed from the sweat from another’s brow, and God’s good fortune? They aren’t the same, but the words in Portuguese are. It’s a tangled ball of yarn to unravel.
One last thought on winning. That family that we’re working so hard to encourage? Well, I gotta say that they seem to be pretty happy the way they are. While there’s all sorts of reasons (see: long-term stability, collateral burdens on other family, kids’ future aspirations) that I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home, this is indeed a family that knows how to LAUGH. Life doesn’t have a finish line, and we can’t take it with us when we go. Naked in we come, naked out we go. So while we’re certainly doing ourselves all a favor in teaching them to be more self-sufficient, I sometimes wonder if we’re doing them one? Teach them to fret more about the day-to-day, about what the future might hold? Sometimes as my husband and suffer the false-starts and frustrations of starting a new life, it seems to us that the true blessing might to be simply content with what you have.
The “wins” are how you define them.