Roger had no skills, talents or truly admirable qualities. Roger had only one weakness. An unwavering hope that he would one day win the lottery. When Roger turned 21, Roger’s widowed and poor mother decided that she could no longer afford her son’s addiction to the lottery and lack of worthwhile ambitions. Roger’s mother decided to pass the baton onto a younger person. Roger’s mother got her son married to Mary, a school teacher. Roger’s mother liked Mary because Mary was educated as well as honest. Not an educated thief like stock market brokers, bankers and insurance salesmen. Roger’s mother thought that the humble school teacher Mary would be the perfect inspiration that Roger needed to make a living out of honest hardwork. The young bride Mary herself had no significant assets except for hope in her heart and a glow in her eyes.
Thus the young but poor couple Roger and Mary began to eke out a meagre living on their own. Roger continued to put his hopes in the lottery while Mary labored hard all day at the school. With this Mary managed to make just about enough to feed them both after Roger had taken his significant share and spent it at various lotteries in the hope of one day winning a fortune that would magically lift them out of this paltry existence.
Mary, like most women, was blessed with the strength of conviction that she could change her man for the better. Roger was a good husband in every other way. Although lacking any talents, Roger was gentle, caring and devoid of any opinion of his own. Mary saw in Roger the potential to be the perfect husband.
One night at the end of a long day, Mary watched with a wrenching heart as Steve filled his pockets with her hard-earned money and began to walk out of the house to buy tickets at the latest lottery. But, Mary had hope in heart and a glow in her eye. That was when Mary realised that she could use the only other asset she possessed – mathematics.
The next night, when Roger was preparing to go out on his lottery buying spree, Mary called out to him, “Roger dear, would you come her and help me with a math problem I have?”
“Mary what would I know about mathematics? You are the school teacher not me. If you can’t figure something out, how can you expect me to do it? You know I dropped out of school after 7th grade” said Roger
“Roger dear, it is helpful to have someone to listen to my lessons before I deliver it to the children. Can you just lend me an ear Steve dear?” said Mary
“Well I would love to Mary but you see Carl has just tipped me that they are beginning to give away tickets on the New York sweepstakes, I have to get my hands on a couple of them before they are all sold out.” said Roger
Mary sighed but she was prepared for this. Mary, like most women, knew the perfect bait to get the attention of her husband.
“Just one question before you leave Roger dear, I am going to toss this coin. If it lands heads, you will give me a dollar and if it lands tails, I will give you ten dollars. Would you take up such an offer?” said Mary
“Why of course, only a madman would refuse such a bet” said Roger
Mary tossed the coin and it landed tails. Mary held out a 10 dollar note. Roger took the 10 dollar bait. Now all Mary had to do was to reel him in.
Mary said “Now would you play the game if I tossed ten coins and you get 10 dollars only if all of them landed heads?” Roger scratched his head.
That night Mary taught Roger how to calculate his chances of winning when they tossed coins.
Roger was hooked onto the prospect that he could actually calculate his chances of winning. Every night when Mary came home tired after her school duties, Mary reeled her husband in with a bet and taught him about probability. Once baited and reeled in, Roger had proved to be an eager student. In a week they had graduated from coins to dice. In a month Mary had developed dark circles under her eyes from the exhaustion of teaching childen in the day and her husband at night. But within that month Roger had learnt the fundamentals of probability and statistics and had begun to see the light of day.
On the 42nd day since their first class, Mary decided it was time to ask Roger the question. “Now do you see Roger dear, if you wouldn’t give me, your wife, a dollar for a bet where you can get hundred dollars if all 10 coins land heads, why are you giving that money to the lottery ticket seller? We calculated the odds of you winning the lottery didn’t we?” asked Mary.
And for the first time in his life Roger saw the bigger picture instead of just the promised prize at the end of the lottery. “Yes Mary dear, you have educated me with the way of numbers and now I see my follies. I will go out tomorrow and search for an honest job that has small regular payouts of salary instead of the promise of a large prize that has almost negiligible probability of occurrence. Forgive me dear Mary for the hardships you have had to endure because of my obsession with the lottery”, said Roger with tears in his eyes.
Mary couldn’t get any words out of her mouth and just hugged her improved and educated husband tight. The couple embraced and Mary went to sleep that night with the hope that her now mathematically aware and educated husband would see the right path and be a man who benefits society.
Within a week, Roger managed to get a job as a clerk at the bank. It was a routine job with a meagre salary but with two meagre salaries, Roger and Mary had managed to stop worrying about their next meal. They had even started building a small saving.
At the end of six months, Mary was actually beginning to wonder at how well things were going. That was when Roger asked her the question. “You know Mary, I recently received a promotion and another raise in salary. I am thinking whether we should start thinking of, you know, having a baby.”
That was when Mary couldn’t stop herself any more. “I know things have been going really well for you Roger. You received regular increases in salary and now you have a promotion. You have started earning much more than me. But I cannot help wonder, what is making you so successful at work?”
“Oh Mary, it is all because of you. You taught me to go for small and certain incremental gains instead of large and improbable lotteries. I came up with this accident insurance scheme for our bank customers and I have been selling it. The customer keeps paying us a small sum of money every month. Occasionally, one person in ten thousand gets himself in an accident and we pay for all his expenses. But, most of the time, nothing happens and we keep getting money from our customers. It is like winning a miniscule lottery most of the time and losing a big one once in a while. It is like being on the other side of the lottery table Mary! You taught me to look at the other end!” said Roger and smiled widely at his wife.
Mary stared back at her insurance salesman husband and wondered whether she had really managed to push him towards an honest living.